Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Top Ten Al Pacino Anti Heroes

Al Pacino is an actor who is often caricatured for his memorable expressions and his over the top delivery. What's remarkable about him is that he's created so many memorable characters that are impression worthy. It's hard to believe that the same man who played Michael Corleone, also played Tony Montana, and Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon. He's as likely to play a "good guy" as a "bad guy" most of his characters falling somewhere in between. We meet Michael Corleone, for example as a decent guy with a chip on his shoulder against his family's mafia activities, and watch as he becomes the most ruthless of them all. That amazing performance wouldn't be effective if we didn't believe both parts of the character. You can't imagine Corleone saying "Hooo-ah!" Pacino can disappear into a character like no one else, yet his characters always have his distinctive mark on them. It's remarkable that he's been acting since 1968 and is still putting out great performances. Here are my favorite ten of his anti hero performances, excluding Shakespeare (although he's a great Shylock too.)

10) Will Dormer, Insomnia

Will Dormer is a legendary police officer who is also under investigation by Internal Affairs. He and his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) are sent to Alaska to help track down a murderer. Hap discusses cutting a deal with IA, which angers Dormer. They investigate the Alaskan murder as Dormer realizes that there's daylight all the time, and finds himself unable to sleep. His partner is shot and only Will knows the true circumstances, although he blames the killer they're pursuing. Local cop, Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank) a big fan of Dormer's looks into Hap's death. Dormer finds the Alaskan killer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams) although  Walter knows a few things that make it difficult for Dormer to arrest him.
"You don't get it do you Finch? You're my job. You're what I'm paid to do. You're about as mysterious to me as a blocked toilet is to a fucking plumber. Reasons for doing what you did? Who gives a fuck?"

9) Sonny, Dog Day Afternoon

Sonny decides to rob a bank, as it's the only way he can pay for his male lover's sex change operation. Assisted by his friend Sal, (John Cazale) they find the robbery goes very easily with no one putting up much resistance. Unfortunately, he picked a bad time to rob the bank as it has little money on hand. The police soon respond and Sonny's efforts turn to survival and attempting an escape for himself and Sal. Negotiating with the police camped outside, even taunting them at times, he attempts to find some way out as he comes to realize he doesn't have a lot of options.
"No, I don't want to be paid, I don't need to be paid. Look, I'm here with my partner and nine other people, see. And we're dying, man. You know? You're going to see our brains on the sidewalk, they're going to spill our guts out. Now are you going to show that on television? Have all your housewives look at that? Instead of As The World Turns? I mean what do you got for me? I want something for that."

8) Steve Burns, Cruising

Steve Burns is a cop tracking down a brutal serial killer who targets gay men in the underground New York  S & M club subculture, using S & M related methods to dispatch his victims. Burns goes undercover in the community with the intent of acting as bait. As this is a William Friedkin film you know it won't be that easy. The assignment gets to Burns more than he imagined it would, leaving him deeply changed in many ways. The film is an interesting portrait of a time period and strives for authentic detail. This is not a film about a
good guy chasing a bad guy as much as it's about some people being poorly suited for undercover work.
"What I'm doing is affecting me."

7) Lefty Ruggiero, Donnie Brasco

Lefty Ruggiero is a mobster targeted by Joey Pistone, (Johnny Depp) an undercover cop using the name "Donnie Brasco" Donnie's strategy is to befriend Lefty to infiltrate the family he works for, what he doesn't count on is forming a real friendship with Lefty, which is certainly mutual as we see Lefty risk his life for Donnie. Lefty educates Donnie on all the ins and outs of Mob life, including the lingo. He says "If I say you're a friend of mine, that means you're connected. If I say you're a friend of ours, that means you're a made guy." He also explains that by vouching for Donnie, he's agreeing to take the blame for anything Donnie does. This turns out to mean a great deal, and we explore whether or not friendship is stronger than the cop/criminal divide.
"How many times have I had you in my house? If you're a rat, then I'm the biggest mutt in the history of the Mafia."

6) Carlito Brigante, Carlito's Way

Carlito Brigante gets out of prison determined to go straight. The only problem is that no one wants to let him. His lawyer and friend, Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) and a thug named Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo) are especially instrumental in making his reformation difficult. Seen by some as a sort of removed sequel to Scarface (If Tony Montana got thirty years in prison he might be Carlito) it's interesting that despite many similarities to Tony Montana, Carlito is also very different. He really wants to go straight but he can't erase everything he was, every friendship or association. Whether he likes it or not, there are some things more important to Carlito than reforming, still it's nice to watch him try while hoping he can do it.
"There is a line you cross, you don't never come back from. Point of no return. Dave crossed it. I'm here with him. That's means I am going along for the ride. The whole ride. All the way to the end of the line, wherever that is."

5) John Milton, The Devil's Advocate

Pacino might not be your first pick as the Devil, (going by John Milton here,) but after seeing his performance here, I was amazed that it hadn't happened before. Pacino himself suggested that Robert Redford or Sean Connery play the part. Milton is intent on bringing his son, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) into the family business. Kevin, an exceptional defense attorney, however, knows nothing about his father. Milton offers him an amazing job, and gradually reveals what's going on behind the curtain. Kevin resists but the battle is not as easy as he thinks.
"Don't get too cocky my boy. No matter how good you are don't ever let them see you coming. That's the gaffe my friend. You gotta keep yourself small. Innocuous. Be the little guy. You know, the nerd, the leper, shit-kickin' surfer. Look at me. Underestimated from day one. You'd never think I was a master of the universe, now would ya? "

4) Frank Serpico, Serpico
You might think that being an honest cop doesn't make you an anti hero, and ideally you'd be right. However, when the police force expects you to be corrupt, it's a whole different story. and you're working against the system, not for it. Frank Serpico refuses to go along with the corrupt practices of his police department, and gets no support at all, even when appealing to the highest authorities. Insisting on living life his own way, doesn't make Serpico any friends. His insistence on sticking to his own code gets him shot in the face and costs him everything of value in his life, including the country he lives in.
"What's this for? For bein' an honest cop? Hmm? Or for being stupid enough to get shot in the face? You tell them that they can shove it."

3) Lt. Vincent Hanna, Heat
Lt. Vincent Hanna ends up chasing a professional thief, Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) a super competent heist crew. Hanna is is dedicated to being a cop as McCauley is to making money, and aside from their professions the two have much in common. McCauley lives by the philosophy of never having anything you can't leave behind. Hanna seems to live by that too, although perhaps not as intentionally. He sacrifices everything in his personal life for the sake of his job. McCauley falters in his committment to this ideal, giving Hanna an opportunity to close in. Even so, the outcome is never certain as McCauley is a tough adversary. Featuring one of the best stand offs around, Heat is mesmerizing from start to finish. Michael Mann is the perfect director to give Pacino and DeNiro the perfect film to appear together, both at their very best.
"Oh, I see, what I should do is, come home and say "Hi honey! Guess what? I walked into this house today, where this junkie asshole just fried his baby in a microwave, because it was crying too loud. So let me share that with you. Come on, let's share that, and in sharing it, we'll somehow, er, cathartically dispel all that heinous shit". Right?"

2) Tony Montana, Scarface

Tony Montana is a force of nature. Starting out in a Cuban refugee camp, he won't be stopped from living his own American dream. His instincts and ruthlessness make it pretty easy for him to elevate himself quickly but the steps never satisfy him. Even after he's deposed his former boss, taken his wife, and established his own direct supply of drugs, Tony wants more. His rapid climb makes him many enemies of course, and even his "friends" are afraid of him. Tony needs help from his Colombian associates to stay out of prison, but he refuses to play by their rules, flagrantly ruining a job they need done and killing the boss's right hand man. Tony is a remarkably tough guy to kill but it's only a matter of time before someone makes the required effort.
"What you lookin' at? You all a bunch of fuckin' assholes. You know why? You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin' fingers and say, "That's the bad guy." So... what that make you? Good? You're not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don't have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you."

1) Michael Corleone, The Godfather

Michael Corleone wants nothing to do with the "family business." He's happy to promise his girlfriend he's not like "them" at all, and he even believes it. But he does have to look out for his father, which gets him tangled up in the affairs of the "five families." He starts off reluctantly but it eventually becomes all too clear that he's not unlike his family at all, and may even be the worst of them. Hailed by many as one of the greatest films of all time, and for good reason. Its full of subtle brilliance in acting, script, and direction and Michael's journey from resistor to the crime throne seems the most natural, if tragic thing in the world.
"That's my family Kay, that's not me."


Caine said...

You aint no lawyer no more Dave, you a gangster now.

INDBrent said...

haha. yes, and that was the truth!

Cary Watson said...

Just found your blog. Love the lists. I think I'd drop Insomnia in favour of Glengarry Glen Ross. It's probably my favourite Pacino performance. He finds a nice balance between his trademark intensity and presenting a very real character. I checked out your top ten Heist and Anti Hero lists and I was wondering if you've seen a Euro-crime film called They Came to Rob Las Vegas. It would probably fit easily on both lists. I posted a review of it on my blog a while ago.

Cary Watson said...

Forgot to add the link to the review

INDBrent said...

Thanks Cary! That's a good call. I loved Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross. Ricky Roma is a fantastic character. Hadn't seen that but I'll check out your review!

Unknown said...

I love this list. I have not seen Cruising before and will definitely have to give it a watch. Dog Day Afternoon and Godfather are my two faves along with Donnie Brasco. I loved the chemistry between he and Depp.

INDBrent said...

Thanks, Mel! Dog Day afternoon is such a different movie. THe Godfather, well, it's the Godfather, and I agree about Brasco, they were great together!

Andrew Nette said...

Nice list. The only omission I can think of is Carlito's Way.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Andrew! I wouldn't forget that one! It's actually number 6.

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