Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Al Pacino season - in our house

Had a mini Al Pacino season round our place on Sunday, in the absence of much worth watching on TV. Kicked it off with Sea of Love, a 1989 erotic thriller written by Richard Price and directed by Harold Becker. The film was a comeback vehicle for Pacino, who'd been away from the big screen for several years. His co-star is Ellen Barkin [the female lead in another of my favourite movies from this period, The Big Easy], and she's always good value. It's a great little film, full of blinding cameos and nifty New York actors. There's an early role for Samuel L Jackson as Black Guy [he shines, even though he's only got five lines] and The West Wing's John Spencer also makes a fleeting appearance. Lorraine Bracco from Goodfellas and The Sopranos was filmed as the ex-wife of Pacino's character, but she only appears in Sea of Love's TV version, don't ask me why. Sea of Love, well worth a look.

Next up was City Hall, another Pacino and Becker collaboration. Again, this is a movie packed with great actors and a barnstorming performance from Pacino, but the film doesn't quite click. It starts off with a moody voiceover that suddenly starts tells us what we're seeing - blatant and unnecessary exposition. Then the voiceover disappears until the final moments of the movie, begging the question why did they bother? The fact there's four different writers on it suggests the script got pulled in several different directions along the way. Don't get me wrong, these are some great screenwriters - Paul Schrader, Nicholas Pileggi and Bo Goldman among them - but their combined efforts are less than the sum of their contributors. City Hall's a political thriller that doesn't quite gel. Stunning, monumental score by Jerry Goldsmith, worth listening to in isolation.

The plan was to watch Pacino's Oscar-winning role in Scent of a Woman next, but it turned out I don't have that film on DVD. A run at The Godfather was contemplated, but The Merchant of Venice won the day. Here writer-director Michael Radford and Pacino take the reviled moneylender Shylock and makes him an entirely sympathetic character. The movie comes alive when he's on screen, and creaks a little when he's not. I read somewhere that the character of Antonio [played by Jeremy Irons in this version] makes best sense if you see him as a gay man having an unrequited love affair with the young hero, Bassanio [Joseph Fiennes]. Having watched the movie again, I'd definitely buy that interpretation. Perhaps the movie's biggest problem is the source material, as it pulls the story in directions this film doesn't always want to willingly go. Nevertheless, compelling viewing.

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