Al Pacino is undeniably one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history – a star whose name can pretty much ensure a film’s commercial success, and bring cachet to projects that would otherwise barely merit a glance. His strong track record of picking interesting character pieces has given us some of the best performances of the last forty years, in films ranging from the Godfather trilogy (he’s even good in the much-derided Part III) to his iconic turn in the 80s classic Scarface, through the over-the-top yet still fun turns he’s given in movies such as The Devil’s Advocate and Dick Tracey to smaller, more restrained character studies in the likes of The Insider and Glengarry Glen Ross.
Yet despite always being entertaining, Pacino’s not exactly got a clean copy book.
Looking back over his career, there are more than a few forgettable duds, such as 1996’s City Hall or 2002’s gimmicky-titled S1m0ne, and a fair few outings where Pacino’s propensity to over-act has nearly ruined the show, most notably in his Shakespearian outings of vanity-project Looking For Richard back in 1996 and more recently his turn as Shylock in the 2004 version of The Merchant of Venice.
Yet despite this – and despite seeming to be looking towards his retirement fund more than to go out with a bang in recent years (how else to explain his outings in the likes of Gigli and Ocean’s Thirteen?) – a Pacino-starring movie remains an event. For every so-so flick such as 2006’s Two For The Money, there’s usually a genuinely decent movie like 2002’s Insomnia.
Hopes were high for this latest outing – with Pacino playing a forensic psychologist who helps the police to profile and track down serial killers (think a slimmer Cracker without the Scottish accent) who ends up in a race against time as one of the killers starts hunting him instead, it sounded like it could combine the kinds of psychological depth of character at which an on-form Pacino excels with a genuinely exciting Hitchcockian plot.
Yes, it may sound a bit similar to Pacino’s earlier Insomnia, to the modern classic Se7en, to the recent Anthony Hopkins flick Fracture – but so what? So he’s also been framed for a murder, just like the heroes of any number of Hitchcock-style thrillers from Cary Grant in North By Northwest and Robert Donat in The 39 Steps through to Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. Who cares, right? Thrillers often share plot elements – that’s what makes them a recognizable genre. What really makes them work is the sense of suspense, the audience’s ability to sympathize and associate with the lead protagonist, the subtleties of the acting and the nature of the twists.
Sympathizing with Al Pacino shouldn’t be hard, right? His A-list, iconic status is more than enough, surely? Well, you’d think so. Sadly, however, this has to be one of his worst performances in years, in a film that singularly fails to live up to its promise. Almost universally slated by critics in the US, and almost entirely avoided by audiences, there’s only one good thing to say about it – the reaction has been so hostile, perhaps Pacino may think a bit more carefully before choosing his next part, stop resting on his laurels, and actually make an effort again for a change.