When Al Pacino took on the role of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” he was essentially an unknown actor in Hollywood, having only appeared in two movies prior. He was, however, a well-respected New York theatre actor who had won a Tony Award in 1969. Francis Ford Coppola had to fight tooth and nail to get Paramount to agree to casting Pacino as the co-lead, which seems hilarious to us now considering the career that the actor went on to have.
Look, if you were to make a list of the 10 most important actors in the history of American cinema, Al Pacino has to be on that list. “The Godfather” rocketed him into the upper echelon of the industry, and he proceeded to rattle off a string of monumental performances, including those in “Serpico,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Dog Day Afternoon, “… And Justice for All,” “Scarface,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Heat,” and “The Insider.” He also transformed who he was as an actor, evolving from a wily mumbler to cinema’s most preeminent yeller.
That transition eventually led to him becoming somewhat of a parody of himself, where the yelling just came off as him overacting. Pacino won his only Academy Award for “Scent of a Woman” in 1992, an overdue legacy Oscar for a performance that indulges in all of Pacino’s most absurd tendencies. For the last 25 or so years, the quality of a Pacino performance is a crapshoot. Sometimes it stands among his best work (see: “The Irishman”), and sometimes he’s in complete trash (see: “88 Minutes”). At 83 years old, all I can do is admire that he keeps working and seems to just love acting. Even if many of his more recent choices are baffling, I’m always interested in his swings.