Tag Archives: al pacino

Serpico – Review

21 Oct

There are certain movies that I’m really surprised I haven’t seen yet. These aren’t movies that stay under the radar or anything, but movies that are well known and loved by audiences. Some of them are even considered classics. What can I say? Nobody’s perfect. I just got around to seeing one of these films that I’d list in these “movies I should have seen already” categories. That film is the 1973 classic by Sidney Lumet, Serpico. I can’t even say I knew what the film was really about. All I knew was that this movie helped form Al Pacino’s career, which is kind of a big deal if I say so myself. After seeing Serpico, I have to say that I didn’t love it. I liked it and it’s certainly a movie I’m not going to forget, but it had major issues that rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s get right into it.

All his life, Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) has wanted to be a police officer. When that day finally comes around, it’s a dream come true. Starting out as just a uniformed officer walking the beat, he begins to see signs that life on the force may not be what he expected, especially after seeing a suspect get roughed up in an interrogation room. As time goes on and he begins to adjust, he is bumped up to a plainclothes officer working more dangerous and criminal cases. What he sees is corruption on a massive scale with his coworkers shaking down drug dealers, pimps, and other criminals. Serpico looks everywhere for help, even going so far as to bring his grievances to the mayor. When no one is able to help, the biggest danger for Serpico isn’t the criminals he busts on a day to day basis, but his fellow police officers who feel he can’t be trusted.

Many people consider this movie a classic, and I believe that because of its impact on the genre. You won’t see any argument from me because my complaints are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I want to get the positives out of the way first because they truly do outweigh the negatives. This was a very early film in Al Pacino’s long and praised career, and if it wasn’t for Serpico, he may not have made it as big as he did. Let’s not forget that he was Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, but this was just another notch in making his career. Pacino is excellent as Serpico. After having spent a lot of time with the real guy, it’s no surprise that he has his voice completely altered and a lot of these mannerisms you don’t really see in other roles that he’s done. This is a complete transformation and a performance that really helped define the times in terms of acting with it being the early 1970s, one of the largest times of change in film since sound was first introduced.

The story of Serpico is also incredibly engaging. As the narrative moves forward and Frank’s plight becomes more dire, I actually felt myself getting stressed out. It’s not terribly hard for a movie to have me guessing as to what’s going to happen or feeling some sort of suspense, but this movie made me physically feel stressed. Everywhere Serpico turns, he’s met with a brick wall, and we see that over the span of over two hours. Pacino’s performance and the writing really brings this character to life onscreen, so we as an audience truly want to see him succeed and finally be able to live the life that he’s wanted. Sidney Lumet is a very talented director who is able to turn characters’ environments into characters themselves. Just think of that one room in 12 Angry Men. What Lumet does for New York City in Serpico is something on a whole new scale. Having filmed this movie in mostly all of the boroughs of New York City, I saw different aspects of life clash and combine making the city live and breathe. It’s essential to this film’s story and Lumet pulled it off flawlessly.

Speaking of flawless, this movie as a whole is not. As I was watching the story play out, I could tell that time was passing. Serpico’s apartment changed furniture, his different friends come and go, and his hair, beard, and clothes change. I figured this was probably a 3 year period. Boy, was I wrong. Serpico‘s story starts in 1960 and spans to 1971! WHAT?! I never got the sense that that was how much time was passing until after the movie was over and I was doing some research on it. If I had known how long all of this was going on, that would’ve added a whole new layer of dread to the stress I was already feeling for our hero. That being said, how smooth can you turn 11 years into a 2 hour movie? There are elements to Serpico’s life that do feel glazed over, forgotten, or rushed in favor of other interests. This kind of muddles the overall story for me, and I can’t help thinking this may have been better as a miniseries on HBO.

Serpico is a very good movie that is full of great elements that is ultimately bogged down by an overabundance of information. Al Pacino’s performance is outstanding and the overall emotional and physical response this film got from me says a lot about the story. Sidney Lumet also films New York City perfectly which brought a whole new sense of realism to the crime drama film. I just wish the story was told a bit more cohesively and smoothly, but instead I felt like I was jumping all over the place without knowing exactly where I landed. Still, Serpico has earned its right to be called a classic, and I’m not going to dispute that.

Final Grade: B+

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Insomnia – Review

30 Jan

I’ve reviewed some of Christopher Nolan’s work before, and as I’m sure I’ve said, he is one of the current most powerful forces in Hollywood. After dazzling critics and less mainstream audiences with Following and Memento, he was granted his first studio film. Insomnia, based off of a Norwegian film by the same name, is an interesting twist on the noir genre that also plays heavily with flawed human psychology and morality. The result is a crazy story with beautiful cinematography that is very well made and interesting, yet not Nolan’s best work by far.

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Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are to LAPD detectives assigned a job in Nightmute, Alaska to help solve a mystery concerning the murder of a seventeen year old girl. Upon arrival they meet Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) a young police officer who has studied Dormer’s work in the past and informs them that at this time of year, the sun doesn’t set in Nightmute. Eckhart soon tells Dormer that he will be cooperating in an internal affairs investigation that may end up ruining Dormer’s career and after an accidental tragedy strikes, it appears the hammer may be falling on Dormer sooner and swifter. As he begins losing sleep for days at a time, he is contacted by Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a writer and the person responsible for the girl’s death, but he is also the person that may get Dormer out of trouble.

In my opinion, the real star of this movie is the cinematographer, Wally Pfister, who’s went on to work with Nolan on every one of his movies since Insomnia. Being a neo-noir film, you would think that there would be a lot of shadows and darkness, but the interesting twist of taking place in an area where the sun doesn’t set gives Pfister a lot of room to play around with light and shadow in a way unconventional to the genre. The Alaskan setting is also filmed beautifully with mountains, lakes, and forests contrasted with small towns give the film a unique look. The best looking part of the movie is a chase through fog which gives the viewers the same sense of uncertainty as the characters.

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I need to give credit to Al Pacino and Robin Williams here too. They both knock it out of the park with their roles. Now, this may sound kind of naïve, but I was expecting that with Al Pacino. I always look at Robin Williams as more of a funny man, although I’m aware of his professional training in acting and his work in dramas before, but never a murder mystery. I was really into his performance here and he actually did a great job at making me feel uncomfortable.

Insomnia is a movie with a multi-layered story. There is a whole lot happening in the movie that you really need to wrap your head around all of it, and that isn’t always easy. That being said, I really like the story in this and it is perfect for Christopher Nolan’s direction, who’s always had a talent with dealing with strange situations. Still, compared to Nolan’s other pieces like The Dark Knight Trilogy and The PrestigeInsomnia doesn’t quite hold up to them. It just doesn’t have the power that his other films have, nor does it have a very satisfying conclusion.

Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia is a cool movie with a lot of cool ideas and a plot that takes it just a step further with all of its devices and twists. Something just doesn’t let it sit in the upper echelons of modern film with Nolan’s other movies. This is a more than adequate neo-noir psychological thriller, but it just didn’t really go as far as I wanted it to. Maybe that has to do with the conclusion which just sort of happens, leaving the movie to just drop off. Still, if you’re interested in Nolan’s work then Insomnia is a movie you should check out, even if it’s just to see it once.

Donnie Brasco – Review

19 Oct

Mob movies have the difficult job of presenting some reprehensible characters to us, and then they have to make us like them. That’s what makes gangster classics like Scarface and the first two Godfather films so good. Coincidentally, both of these films star Al Pacino, and so does Donnie Brasco, a mob film that’s based on a true story that has potential to be a classic, but is unfortunately a film I would characterize as a B-gangster film.

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Special Agent Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), is an FBI agent working undercover to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family. His in with the family comes in the form of a low level lieutenant, “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino), who is getting upset that he’s been with the family for thirty years and was involved in 26 hits, but still hasn’t gotten anywhere. Donnie is quickly introduced to Sonny “Black” (Michael Madsen), the head of the group. Donnie soon becomes well liked by the family, and he begins to lose sight of what his life really is, as he falls deeper and deeper into the character of Brasco, and distances himself from his family.

I honestly can’t say too much about Donnie Brasco because I really just found it to be a completely mediocre movie. Critics have praised this movie for it’s realism and performances, but it really doesn’t achieve anything new that hasn’t been done in better gangster films. What I will actually remember most from this movie, and what is really annoying, is the tough talk. It almost lampoons gangster talk. If I had to hear “forget about it” one more time, I would take the DVD out of the player and use it to cut my own head off.

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The few things that stick out as positive are Pacino’s performance and the period design. Al Pacino is no newcomer when it comes to gangster films, and his performance as a softer , tired kind of gangster is a welcome change after his malicious Michael Corleone and Tony Montana. It’s a very heartfelt performance that really saves the movie from being completely unmemorable. The period design is also really nice. Taking place in 1978 to around 1980, this movie really does a great job of setting the New York and Miami scenes up to make them look as authentic as possible, from the cars to the music to the clothes.

There just isn’t anything in this movie that will put it in the upper echelons of gangster films. Goodfellas and Casino have great characters with excellent dialogue and artistic shot designs. Scarface exists as almost pure entertainment featuring a comic book style gangster story that is just so much fun to watch. Donnie Brasco falls in the area between Carlito’s Way and Kill the Irishman, although if someone asked me to choose from these three, I’d choose Kill the Irishman.

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Thank goodness for Pacino. If it wasn’t for him, this film would be nothing. It may look nice and have all the elements of a solid gangster movie, but everything just falls flat. Johnny Depp and Michael Madsen do nothing special and the story is not the least bit exciting, which is weird considering all the material the film makers had to work with. From my research, the adaptation of the true story isn’t even that accurate. Well if Donnie Brasco isn’t accurate or entertaining, why would you want to watch it?

The Devil’s Advocate – Review

11 Sep

Films that put religious or mythology in modern times has a real draw to me since I don’t think it is really easy to connect them. The Devil’s Advocate doesn’t just do that, but it also exposes a rather hated view of the judicial system and the laws that make up our nation, but also connections between religion and mental illness. This was a great multi-layered supernatural drama that never took itself too seriously, but still manages to be intelligent.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a defense attorney he appears to have the perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), a 64-0 case record and now the chance to work for one of the leading law firms in New York. Upon arrival, Lomax gets close to the boss, John Milton (Al Pacino) who quickly take him under his wing. Despite the pleas for their old life from his wife, Kevin decides to stay and begin his rise to the top. Soon a strange evil seems to blanket over Kevin and Mary Ann, and it appears that John Milton isn’t just a defense lawyer, but the Prince of Darkness himself.

The writing was the first thing that struck me about this film. The introduction is a real slap in the face when it comes to real world problems, disgusting human beings, and the moral dilemma that defense attorneys must face. Only a certain type of person can be a defense attorney as this movie clearly states in an almost condemning way. Are they all terrible people? No, but they have to understand that they might defending a horrible human being.

The pacing of the film is great. It’s a slow movie that adds layers upon layers of new characters and story lines to wrap your head around, it isn’t difficult to find yourself lost and totally engrossed in the story. Pacino’s character isn’t revealed right away, but instead we have to wait. This is a great way of building up the character, and let me tell you he is fantastic. This looks to be the most fun Pacino has had since Scarface, and his best performance he’s had since.

The entire film is filled with random supernatural occurrences that remind me very much of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, especially the scenes involving Mary Ann. The scene that really lingers with the viewer, however, is the outstanding climax. Of course I won’t reveal what happens, but I will say that Al Pacino kills it. I feel like I’m talking about him a lot in this review, but it’s warranted since this is practically his show. He really runs the entire movie.

What almost soured the entire film was the very end. It seemed that I was going to have to spend an immense amount of my night brooding over how gut wrenchingly awful it was. Now, it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought, but it was still pretty unsatisfying. There are ways to analyze it that make it seem more “plausible” or at the very least appropriate, but something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s really unfortunate considering everything that happens before it, and we are rewarded with a strictly forced and mediocre ending.

The Devil’s Advocate is smart, accusatory, chilling, and at times darkly comedic. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a strong conclusion to support the rest of the movie. It got me thinking about how strange it is that a bad ending can really detract from a movie or piece of literature. They are so important to the rest of the story, and endings are usually a big thing to be remembered. Still, 98% of this movie is excellent and should really be checked out, especially for Pacino’s performance.