Before I embark on this ambitious journey to relate to you Al Pacino’s greatness in just a few words, I’d like to point out that he is perhaps the most honored, if not loved, actor ever to perform on stage and screen. At 75 years old, the man is a living legend. Through his acting an array of characters came to life, fooling his audience into thinking there really was a rampaging Tony Montana, there really was a blind Lieutenant Colonel who danced the tango with a beautiful woman, there really was a Michael Corleone.
Although born in New York, Pacino’s Italian roots go all the way back to Sicily. He discovered his passion and talent for acting at a young age and worked his way through acting studies, often while having no place to live. Pacino studied acting for many years, but the most influential one, according to him, was the Actors Studio, of which he is the co-president today. One of his first performances already won him an Obie Award for Best Actor for the play The Indian Wants the Bronx (1968). Pacino’s stage career continued to flourish. He appeared in numerous successful Broadway shows and won several awards, including 2 Tony’s. His talent on stage notwithstanding, Pacino’s greatest talent is on the big screen.
The most important film he was in was also one of his firsts: The Godfather (1972), in which he played Michael Corleone, a quiet, uninvolved family member who takes the place of his father as Mafia Boss. In 1974 Pacino was already counting his second Oscar nomination for his role as an honest cop in Serpico (1973), as well as for The Godfather II, which also won the Best Picture Oscar. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) soon followed, in which Pacino starred as Sonny Wortzik, an incompetent criminal who gets in over his head. Not surprisingly, this film brought Pacino his third Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. With …And Justice for All (1979) Pacino concluded the decade with a fourth Oscar nomination for his part as Arthur Kirkland.
Throughout the years Pacino presented the world of film with several unforgettable characters and scenes. One of my favorites is that of Tony Montana, the violent Cuban drug lord in the all-time classic Scarface (1983). Of course, he is not only noteworthy for his roles in mafia, action or crime films. In 1991 he once again acted alongside Michelle Pfeiffer in Frankie and Johnny, and his role as Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy (1990) won him yet another Oscar nomination. Finally, in 1992 Pacino won an Academy Award for his role as the blind Lieutenant Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, where we find the most delicate and touching dance film ever to be made in Hollywood. The films Carlito’s Way (1993) and Heat (1995) brought him back to the world of action and crime, the best of which (in that decade) is Donnie Brasco (1997), in which he starred alongside Johnny Depp as the somewhat tormented mafia member, Lefty.
Pacino’s achievements are practically impossible to recount. What I can say is that he is the star of some of the greatest films ever made, and the reason for the greatness of several of them. His transition between characters and his unbelievable ability to make his audience identify with him are just two of the reasons I will gladly argue he is the best actor Hollywood has ever known.