Happy Birthday, Al Pacino!

Eighty-three years ago on this very day, Alfredo James Pacino was born in an East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.

Pacino is a film giant, but made his way there from the very bottom.

He began is career by participating in several basement plays in New York's theatrical underground, but was rejected as a teenager by the Actors Studio, a professional actors' guild.

Pacino joined the HB Studio, where he met acting teacher Charlie Laughton who became Pacino’s mentor and friend.

After four years at HB Studio, Pacino successfully auditioned for the Actors Studio where he studied "method acting" under legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg.

During the '60s, Pacino made a name for himself in the theatre, with his Broadway debut in Don Petersen's Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? and the performance earned him his first Tony Award.

His most significant film role was that of a heroin addict in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). Pacino’s sterling performance drew the attention of the young auteur Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and the rest is history.

Simply put, Pacino is among the finest and most influential actors of our times, mastering all mediums including theater, cinema, and television.

Pacino has received numerous accolades: including an Academy Award, two Tony Awards, and two Primetime Emmy Awards, making him one of the few performers to have achieved the Triple Crown of Acting. Pacino received lifetime achievement awards at the Golden Globes, the American Film Institute, the National Medal of Arts (2011), and the Kennedy Center (2016).

The following is an attempt to celebrate some of Pacino’s best film performances:

The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)

Michael Corleone will always be the character that defined Pacino’s cinematic legacy.

At the beginning of the first film, Pacino conveys childlike naivete and loquaciousness. But life thrusts Michael into the forefront of a vicious gang war and by the end of the second film, Michael has devolved into a cold-blooded fiend who has no compunction eliminating relatives and friends.

Depicting this Michael’s gradual descent into darkness was challenging, because as Michael hardens up, he becomes reticent - rarely being expressive either demonstratively or verbally about his emotions or his thoughts.

It was the way Pacino delivered his rare lines. It was his piercing gaze and his clenched jaw that conveyed his initial reluctance, the internal conflict which finally turned into cold steely determination. He expressed it all without saying anything at all and that was his brilliance.

The third installment in the series was doubtlessly not nearly as brilliant as the first two, but Pacino’s performance as an aging and remorseful gangster felt like King Lear. The film ends like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Serpico (1973)

Pacino was brilliant as Frank Serpico, a real-life New York cop who almost singlehandedly took on the corruption and unethical conduct of his colleagues and superiors in the NYPD.  

Scarface (1983)

Tony Montana is perhaps the most celebrated and parodied of Pacino’s characters. This remake of the 1932 classic of the same name was directed by Brian DePalma based on a script by Oliver Stone. Pacino delivers an almost operatic performance as he depicts Montana’s rise in the crime world and descent into debauchery. 

Carlito’s Way (1993)

Pacino plays Carlito Brigante, a criminal who is trying 'to go straight' which is never easy. Pacino depicts pathos and despondency as his character comes to the realization that reform is not just about intent in this second collaboration with Brian De Palma. The film also has a touching, poignant love story.

Heat (1995)

This was a clash of titans with ace detective Pacino pitted against a master thief played by Robert De Niro. 

The film is a landmark film with numerous notable scenes. It influenced Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy particularly it depiction of good and evil as two sides of the same coin.

The Panic in Needle Park (1971)

Based a screenplay by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. This is film was about young heroin addicts in New York during the seventies. The film provides an early glimpse of Pacino's brilliance.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

This gripping adaptation of David Mamet's Pulitzer prize-winning play revolves around a group of real estate salesmen whose situations are desperate. 

Pacino plays Ricky Roma, an astute but cutthroat salesman will leave no stone unturned to get what he wants.

Donnie Brasco (1997) 

A brave choice for Pacino,  playing Lefty Ruggiero, a middleman in a crime syndicate who is at the twilight of his life and career. Most of the film is Pacino reacting to being ignored and belittled. It is a masterclass in film acting where so much can be said without mouthing a syllable.

Pacino's character unknowingly gets involved with the FBI, which for his character would have dire consequences.

The Insider (1999)

The riveting account of 60 Minutes’s battle with the Big Tobacco industry. Pacino's stoic TV new producer works closely with a whistle blower and a star news man in an attempt to expose corruption and malpractice within the tobacco industry.

Insomnia (2002)

In a recent interview, Pacino joked that he rejected the part of Han Solo which gave Harrison Ford a career. Ford sort of returned the favor by rejecting the lead part in Insomnia that went to Pacino.

This was Christopher Nolan's haunting remake of a Norwegian film. Pacino brings a world-weariness to his sleep-deprived detective on a manhunt for a serial killer. This is one of Pacino's best performances that didn't receive the due it deserved

The Irishman (2019)

Pacino stole the show playing Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese's epic gangster drama about truck driver Frank Sheeran (DeNiro) who gets involved with notorious gangster Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. Sheeran becomes a top contract killer who goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa.

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Pacino plays an irascible, visually impaired retired army colonel who became mentor and father figure to a young student. Pacino aces on both the epic and the intimate aspects of his character.

The Humbling (2014)

Pacino is flawless an aging stage actor who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He often has issues distinguishing between reality and fiction. Despite being a veteran man of theatre, he is plagued by self-doubt and insecurities.

His life changes when he meets a young woman with whom he develops an uncanny bond.

Looking For Richard (1996)

Al Pacino's profound rumination on Shakespeare's significance and relevance to the modern world through interviews and an in-depth analysis of "Richard III." If you want to introduce anyone to Shakespeare, the may be the perfect documentary. We see Pacino perform scenes from the play and almost deconstruct Shaeapeare. Pacino interviews everone from a street tramp to acting thepians such as Sir John Gielgud.

There are numerous other many stellar performances and films.

Pacino is not only a brilliant actor and a director but also a great raconteur who frequently engage in self-deprecating humor. His interviews are always a delight to watch.

Here's wishing the great man a very happy birthday and a joyous, healthy and long life.

Image: CBS Morning News video screen shot from YouTube video.

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