x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

After a string of flops for Al Pacino, has the Godfather been dethroned?

Despite his cinematic flops, the actor has enjoyed some success on the small screen. So are his best days behind him, or has he simply settled into a new creative home?

Al Pacino's recent TV roles have marked a comeback in his career.
Al Pacino's recent TV roles have marked a comeback in his career.

For more than 40 years, Al Pacino has been the benchmark for aspiring actors in Hollywood. He has helped create characters who will be remembered as long as cinema is discussed, and has established a long legacy of memorable performances. However, his most recent release, the thriller Son of No One, currently showing in UAE cinemas, has highlighted a slow decline in the quality of the 71-year-old's big-screen output for the past decade.

Conversely, he has enjoyed some success on the small screen, with award-winning roles in two recent TV movies. So, are the actor's best days behind him, or has he simply settled into a new creative home?

Of course, the Brooklyn-born actor's career was, bar a few mediocre choices in the 1980s, a non-stop success since his debut lead role in The Panic in Needle Park. The 1970s were career-forming, with films such as The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon; he created an enduring icon in 1983's Scarface; and became Hollywood's elder statesman in the 1990s with the Oscar-winning Scent of a Woman, Michael Mann's Heat and Any Given Sunday.

After 2002's critically lauded Insomnia, however, both acclaim and box office-success appeared to elude the actor, who began appearing in a series of below-average thrillers and oddball comedies. Many of the thrillers saw him playing a similar character, usually a mentor of some kind to a younger actor – for example, Colin Farrell in The Recruit. Despite big-name co-stars in 2008's Righteous Kill and Ocean's Thirteen, the consensus was that he was treading old ground and not choosing scripts that were worthy of an actor of his stature. The latter was never more evident than in his comedy roles, such as 2002's S1m0ne (about a filmmaker who creates a "virtual actress"), and last year's maligned comedy Jack and Jill, where Pacino seduces a cross-dressing Adam Sandler.

In any other circumstances, this decade of indifference could have spelt the end for many an ageing actor's career, but Pacino has begun a quiet resurgence away from cinema, for the US television network HBO. His two productions for the company have seen him win Best Actor awards at the Golden Globes and Emmys for both films, beginning with 2003's Angels in America. His bitter, acerbic portrayal of a bigoted lawyer dying of Aids astounded critics, who heralded it as one of the best of his career. In 2010, he played the controversial role of the euthanasia advocate Dr Jack Kavorkian in You Don't Know Jack, with all credit going to Pacino's central performance.

This success seems to have revived something in Pacino's career, as the films he is currently working on are as interesting as anything he has taken on in the past. He is filming his third HBO movie, a biopic of the jailed record producer Phil Spector, and will play a lawyer for John Travolta's crime boss in Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father, which also stars Lindsay Lohan and Ben Foster. The actor is even branching into family-friendly territory, with his first voice-over role in the sequel to the smash hit animation Despicable Me.

Perhaps in the context of four decades, this is merely a blip in an otherwise illustrious CV, or perhaps in an industry where younger equals better, he had to go elsewhere to remind audiences (and film executives) what he is capable of. Whatever the reason, Pacino appears to be in the midst of a comeback, no longer as the ageing mentor to a new talent, or as a character faintly reminiscent of one of his past roles, but as a character actor tackling roles that many A-listers would not dare touch. It appears, then, that his career will continue just as it began: by taking risks.

artslife@thenational.ae