Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 160: Favourite Actors #1 - Al Pacino

One of my favourite trivia questions to offer people is this one: which actor has been nominated for an Oscar for the same role three times and never won? It never ceases to amaze me how many of those questioned, work through Harrison Ford as either Hans Solo or Indiana Jones (yeah, right, Indy as Best Actor in a Leading Role??) or any one of the Bonds - Connery & Moore in particular - and even Clint Eastwood for either Dirty Harry Callaghan or the “man with no name”. Eventually I nearly always have to yield the answer, more to ease my anxiety and hysteria than theirs. The correct answer, of course, is Al Pacino for Michael Corleone in the three Godfather movies.

That’s right, three nominations and no statuette. I can understand no gold for The Godfather 3, but 1 and 2...??!! Let me just reel off a couple more mind-bending Academy titbits re Al: Serpico (1973) nominated for Best Actor but didn’t win, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) nominated as Best Actor but didn’t win, And Justice For All (1979) nominated Best Actor didn’t win, Dick Tracy (1990) nominated for Best Supporting Actor didn’t win again, Glengarry Glen Ross (1993) nominated Best Actor in a Supporting Role, no win. Including the three Godfather nominations, that’s a total of EIGHT Oscars that he’s been put forward for. But of course there was a ninth.....1992, Scent of a Woman.....for which he WON. You gotta be kidding me right?

The Golden Globe nominations (not that anyone really believes those scams) total 14, add in the Emmy’s and everything else and I can only begin to imagine what size mantelpiece Mr P should have at home to accommodate those awards that he didn’t get?

For my money, not only is he the greatest living actor, Pacino is also one of the all-time greats, ever, up there with Brando, De Niro and Bogart. I don’t really know what to write here that wouldn’t simply sound like a shopping list of the films that he has triumphed in or the incredible directors he has worked with and the reasons I love Al Pacino. There’s no way that I’m going to try and explain why he’s so good or why I think he’s so brilliant.

Pacino is my foremost choice of detective - Serpico, Insomnia, Sea of Love - paradoxically, he’s also my favourite gangster - Godfather, Scarface, Donny Brasco - proving that the line we tread between justice and injustice, good and bad is blurry, vague and very thin. But that’s what I like about Al; whichever side of the line (of law) he’s on, he evokes empathy and gets you on his side of the courtroom. I have nothing in common with mob boss Michael Corleone; I’m not putting death warrants out to have my brother whacked nor am I having to run the family business and keep all the other “ five families” in line, but like everyone else, I sure identify with the pressures of balancing a personal and professional life...maybe I have lots in common with Don Corleone after all.

As a cop, Al Pacino is the guy who’s prepared to do for us (society) what we we would balk at doing for ourselves. Sometimes blind lady justice’s scales need a little weight added to ensure that “the bastards” are put away, it’s not a pretty job, not a nice job - just ask Eastwood, Nicholson, Bogart, Hackman, De Niro and Russell Crowe. These are the law enforcers you want out there on dark nights and Al Pacino is the best of them: one part brawn, three parts brain, two parts guile and cunning and ten parts tenacity & decency.

Day #160 Tip: Do you want to be happy or right?
American remakes of European films are normally scoffed at and scorned even before the first day of principal photography....”why does Hollywood have to go and f**k it up” is what’s normally leveled at the heretic reinterpreters (they’re often right). Not so with Insomnia.

The original Insomnia is a 1997 Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgard (Breaking the Waves), directed and co-written by Erik Skjoldbjaerd about a police detective investigating a murder in a town up in the Arctic Circle where the sun never sets. The investigation goes deeply off-kilter when he shoots his partner by mistake and attempts to cover it up. It’s a good flick.

In 2002, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception) directed the remake, starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, with Hilary Seitz on board for the rewrite. This time the cop and his partner are from LA (where they are under Internal Affairs investigation), shipped off to Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the murder of 17 year-old, high school student, Kay Connell. The Pacino character (Will Dormer.....‘Dormir’ being the French verb ‘to sleep’, gettit?) shoots his partner by mistake, and there’s a great deal at stake here because that partner of his, Hap, was going to roll over for IA which would certainly have led to evidence-tampering disgrace for Pacino’s character, even though his motivations were honourable.

What Hilary Seitz weaves beautifully into the remake, is the local, rookie-cop character of Ellie Burr (Swank) a greenhorn who has worshipped Detective Will Dormer from afar and is now given the job of dotting the formality “i’s” and crossing the investiagtive “t’s” into Hap’s death. Having studied the Will’s teachings from afar and studied them well, Ellie finds some inconsistencies that will eventually lead to the potential dishonouring of her mentor (Pacino/Dormer). It’s more than a great great subplot, with tough character dilemmas for Will and Ellie, it becomes the vehicle for the Controlling Idea of the film.

I could talk at length about the two Insomnia’s and about the strengthening of a story with a subplot, that takes it from good to great. Could the original writers have done that themselves.....I very much doubt it. Would they have wanted to, who knows? Objectivity and fresh eyes were needed here and, given that none of us will be wanting to hand our scripts over to other writers to polish and buff for us, we’d better get that that lack of prejudice (to our own work) wherever and whenever we can. We must endeavour to drop our defensive guards and intransigence and open the door of our mind to new solutions....just like I’m going to have to do with a Treatment of mine in the next couple of weeks.

However, if my buttons are pushed too much I’ll just do a Michael Corleone (Pacino), slamming the desk with a meeting-ending “ENOUGH!”

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