On the mean screen
IF this column had to name the most admired and enduring of the great American male stars, our vote would probably go to Al Pacino, still in business in his 70s. I don’t think he has made a really good film since The Insider in 1999 (with Russell Crowe), and it’s 20 years since he won an Oscar for playing a blind army man in Scent of a Woman, the only time his acting has been recognised by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But that saturnine charisma survives, typically in roles as a tough authority figure on one side of the law or the other.
The five Pacino films showing this week span 24 years and include Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (Sunday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics), in which Pacino gives a riveting performance as a New York cop who blows the whistle on police corruption in the NYPD in the 1970s and is targeted by both police and criminals for his pains. It’s a true story (more or less) and may be the definitive Hollywood portrayal of the honest cop who refuses to go on the take.
Corruption is never far away in a Pacino film, and in Two for the Money (Monday, 3.30pm, Showtime Drama) it has infected the US sporting scene, with Pacino as the ailing Walter Abrams, who runs a thriving business selling dodgy advice to sports gamblers. In Norman Jewison’s And Justice for All (Saturday, 8.30pm, Showtime Drama) he’s a criminal attorney fighting to save his clients from the whims of a flawed justice system. His one attempt at a romantic role resulted in the unfortunate Frankie and Johnny (Saturday, 6.30pm, Showtime Drama), an awkward, Marty- style heartwarmer directed by Garry Marshall from Terrence Mcnally’s play. Pacino’s shortorder cook falls for shy waitress Michelle Pfeiffer and won’t take no for an answer.
He’s back on familiar ground in The Recruit (Friday, 8.30pm, Movie Extra) as a grizzled CIA instructor inducting Colin Farrell into the murky ways of the agency as they track down a mole within their ranks. ‘‘ Trust no one!’’ is Pacino’s advice to Farrell and, given the deadly morass of doublecrossing and deceit that emerges in this superior thriller, that makes a lot of sense.
It’s unfortunate Brian De Palma couldn’t find a role for him in The Untouchables (Saturday, 8.30pm, Showtime Action), another great Hollywood gangster saga, with plenty of slambang action and a witty script by David Mamet. Kevin Costner played legendary G-man Eliot Ness and the Al Capone role went to Pacino’s old friend and Godfather II co-star Robert De Niro. (The last time Pacino and De Niro appeared together was in Jon Avnet’s Righteous Kill, when they were reunited on the side of law and order.)
There was certainly no obvious Pacino part in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Premiere), a wonderfully fevered film about ballet dancers, though at a pinch he might have played the imperious ballet master who has to decide whether to give the leading role in Swan Lake to Natalie Portman or Mila Kunis. Portman gets the nod, but her disordered personality isn’t up to the challenge and she lapses into a hallucinatory world of paranoid delusion and self-mutilation. This is a horror film disguised in the trappings of traditional high culture and the result is hypnotic.
Many lovers of traditional high culture are said to be annoyed that Opera Australia is putting on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific this year instead of concentrating on more serious operatic business. As regular readers know, this column loves American musicals, and for those who can’t make it to the opera we recommend the gorgeous 1958 film South Pacific (Wednesday, 10.45pm, Fox Classics) with Mitzi Gaynor. Pacino was too young to play Emile de Becque, so the part went to Rossano Brazzi.
Sunday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics
Saturday, 8.30pm, Showtime Action
Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Premiere
Wednesday, 10.45pm, Fox Classics
Al Pacino and Colin Farrell as CIA operatives in The Recruit