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Al Pacino’s Seven Greatest Roles

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July 25th, 2011

I’ll admit right off the bat that Al Pacino is my favorite actor.  Sure he overacts on occasion (drama’s Jim Carrey), but he is still without equal—simply the greatest actor of his generation.  Pacino studied method acting under famed teacher Lee Strasburg, who also played his grandfather in …And Justice For All.  Pacino made his film debut the year I was born and it’s hard to believe that he’s 71 years old.  It will be tough to narrow his mammoth career to seven roles, but these are the best of the best.

1 – Sonny Wortzik (Dog Day Afternoon) – Pacino plays a bank robber so sympathetic the entire audience has Stockholm Syndrome.  Sonny just wants the cash so his boyfriend can have a sex change operation.  The tension and panic created by Pacino are insane.  I could watch it a thousand times and I’m still hoping in the end he gets on that helicopter.

2 – Michael Corleone (The Godfather) – Pacino at his most restrained.  He plays Michael and the most logical and calm of the Corleone Brothers, which makes his ruthlessness that much more shocking and chilling.  The scenes involving Diane Keaton are genius.

3 – Arthur Kirkland (…And Justice For All) - Okay so this one is certainly over the top, full of heavy-handed drama and social commentary that is as subtle as a train wreck.  No attorney has ever endured more injustice in the span of a few weeks as Arthur Kirkland, but that’s the point.  Pacino is brilliant in scenes with mentor Lee Strasberg and in his quieter moments.  But I like the Pacino-esque eruption in the closing scene every bit as much.

4 – Tony Montana (Scarface) – The quintessential scenery-chewing Pacino performance.  Sure the accent and exaggerated facial expressions are outrageous, but this one’s iconic.  I’m not even going to mention the famous quote.

5 – Big Boy Caprice (Dick Tracy) – I know there are more dramatic, intense roles in Pacino’s career, but he steals every scene he’s in during Dick Tracy, acting circles around Warren Beatty and Madonna.  Okay, so that’s not a tough task.  Only Mandy Patinkin seems up to the challenge.  At any rate, watching Pacino ooze contempt for his by-the-books nemesis is priceless.  And he was nominated for an Oscar.

6 – Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Scent of a Woman) – I know this is the role that finally landed Pacino his much-deserved Oscar, and he plays the angry, blind Slade flawlessly.  But the performance hasn’t held up like the top five, and is quite obviously over the top.

7 – Ivan Travalian (Author! Author!) – This one is my guilty pleasure.  Pacino is nicely understated as a playwright trying to juggle a dysfunctional family life while in bad need of a hit.

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