Say hello - and happy birthday - to our little friend, Al Pacino.
It’s impossible to imagine modern cinema without him. With a career spanning over 50 years, Alfredo James Pacino celebrates his 80th birthday this week (on 25 April) and seems even more indestructible than ever.
So much so that it’s easy to take him for granted. But this is an actor who’s scored that rare triple whammy of an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony, even if a grand total of nine Oscar nominations has only produced one solitary little gold man. No matter. His huge range and talent have put him in a class of his own.
Just take a look at some of his greatest roles, most of which can be enjoyed online right now.
The Godfather trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)
He almost didn’t play Michael Corleone, thinking Francis Ford Coppola was “a little bit mad” for wanting him. But the transformation from the kid who didn’t want to be involved in the “family business” to cold eyed don earned him two Oscar nods and an indelible place in cinema history.
Moving to the other side of the criminal fence as whistleblowing NYC cop, Frank Serpico, Pacino’s portrayal of isolation and frustration was showcased in Sidney Lumet’s powerful true life drama. It was a haunting, uninhibited performance that consolidated his reputation, proving that The Godfather was no one-hit wonder.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Pacino was explosive as the leader of bank heist gone awry. But when his motives for the robbery surface, he becomes less hostile, showing how far somebody will go for the person they love. The complexity of his performance, facing disaster as he pretends to be in control, is astonishing.
Say hello to perhaps the actor’s showiest, most larger-than-life role. Sure, it’s over the top, but so is Brian De Palma’s satire on the American dream. Pacino’s Tony Montana resonated so strongly that he found his way into pop culture, influencing other film characters – Frank Slade included – along the way.
Dick Tracy (1990)
As cartoon villain Big Boy Caprice, Pacino is gaudy, extremely loud and sinks his teeth into the scenery with relish. It’s a performance of excess, yet he manages to embody the spirit of director Warren Beatty’s crazy vision. More impressively, he does it with total control while buried under prosthetics.
Frankie And Johnny (1991)
Al Pacino a romantic lead? Oh, yes, and in a sweet rom-com that took him outside of his darker comfort zone. His ex-con short-order cook is full of fast-talking charm, and a tender romance develops between him and Michelle Pfeiffer’s wary waitress. It’s impossible to say no to his character.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Pacino was part of a stellar ensemble for this adaptation of his idol David Mamet’s play. The most ruthless of the real estate salesmen in a dog-eat-dog profession, he’s silky smooth with customers, but will trample over anybody to stay on top. Would you buy a home from this man?
Scent Of A Woman (1992)
Hoo-hah! The film that, at last, brought Pacino an Oscar wasn’t his best outing, but he was still magnetic as retired Army officer Frank Slade.
Read more: Oscar travesties
Lonely, drunk and blind, he rises to the occasion on a Thanksgiving trip to New York in what is more than just a buddy movie.
Carlito's Way (1993)
Back with Brian De Palma for another mob epic, Pacino swopped his explosiveness for something with subtlety and nuance as the ex-con trying to go straight and scuppered by his crooked lawyer. His calm assurance disguised a typically fearless performance, one that meant the audience was always on his side.
For all its grand scale, Michael Mann’s epic came down to one scene. Pacino and De Niro in the diner. As two men doing their jobs, they were standing in each other’s way – and knew it.
An on-form Pacino combined earthiness with intensity close to obsession, echoing his earlier career.
Looking For Richard (1996)
Pacino as director, as well as actor, and indulging in his love of Shakespeare. He digs deep into American attitudes towards the playwright, especially his drama Richard III. Assembling a dream cast, with himself in the lead, it gives an insight into Pacino’s acting and his passion for the theatre.
Donnie Brasco (1997)
Aging hit-man Lefty Ruggiero gets conned – but, as played by Pacino, he gets our sympathy. Fooled by Fed agent Brasco (Johnny Depp) into teaching him everything he knows about crime, he can’t see reality. But there’s dignity in his pathos and it takes a great actor to pull that off.
The Insider (1999)
As the TV producer who coaxes a tobacco company scientist to reveal the dangers of smoking, this was a more subdued Pacino, but arguably more powerful than ever. Standing up for the rights of a free press, he’s protecting his assets and interests amid something he knows is deeply wrong.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Back to the familiar fiery Pacino we know, this time as a long-suffering NFL coach clashing with the team’s new, younger owner. An experienced actor playing a veteran professional - both locking horns with newcomers - he gave one of his most memorable performances, topped off with a rousing speech.
As the detective investigating a murder where the sun never sets, Pacino gave his most physical performance to date. His increasingly haggard face, sluggish movement and body language, as well as an inability to concentrate, all articulated the effects of insomnia. And his sparring with Robin Williams was a bonus.
The Merchant Of Venice (2004)
Back to Shakespeare, Pacino was in his element playing Shylock, crossing the Atlantic divide and infusing the money lender with fire and fury, but never coming close to making him a stereotype. By showing a sympathetic side to the character, he delivered a complexity not often associated with the role.
Pacino’s mournful, ageing locksmith, struggling with a long-ago break-up and an America he no longer understands, was one of the best of his more recent roles. A meditation on regret and nostalgia, it was tailor made for his mature talent and reminded audiences that subtlety is part of his repertoire.
Danny Collins (2015)
The once-promising balladeer who sold out gave Pacino the chance to demonstrate a nice line in self-mockery and he was definitely on winning, charming form in a story that was perhaps beneath him. Not that it mattered, as he effortlessly carried the film – and us – all the way with him.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
In a supporting role among another stellar ensemble cast, Pacino played a veteran Hollywood agent Marvin Schwarz – just one of the film’s many real-life characters – who combined a savvy charm with telling his acting clients the whole unvarnished truth. He was in just a handful of scenes, but shone nonetheless.
The Irishman (2019)
In powerhouse company, Pacino came out on top as Jimmy Hoffa. His friendship with DeNiro made the relationship between Jimmy and Frank totally believable, and he moved from the loud (shouting at a room full of staff) to the subdued (quietly concealing his pleasure at an assassination) with consummate ease.