With a unquestionable catalogue of iconic performances to his name, it’d be hard to argue against the fact that Al Pacino is the finest – and most coherent – American actor to ever grace the silver screen. From his first, small part in the 1969 independent movie, Me Natalie, Pacino’s career has always been eye-catching. Pacino's acting roots are evident in his earliest performances which emphasize improvisation, spontaneity, and flamboyance of manner and expression to a point where acting threatens to become the films' sole function.
This is precisely the case in his roles as the young junkie in Panic In Needle Park, the drifter who has abandoned his family in Scarecrow, the honest New York cop single-handedly fighting a corrupt police department in Serpico, and the would-be bank robber who desires to finance his lover's sex change operation in Dog Day Afternoon. It is his appearances in these films, and as Michael Corleone in legendary Godfather films, established Pacino as one of the 1970' most important stars.
His performances in the first four movies i mentioned above, are a force of an almost crazed nervous energy combined with a deep strength and vulnerability. This energy appears at once as a positive trait, infectious and irresistible, and a mask, a defense against the constant threat posed by the other characters or forces at work in the story.
Of all these classics, it was his work in the two Godfather films, required Pacino to create a far more complexly psychological characterization. Here, his acting style changes drastically, as he becomes more restrained and understated. His Michael Corleone starts out a young, all American war hero, a man with decent instincts and the type of guy one would expect to marry, raise a family, become a pillar of his community. As time passes and Michael finds himself becoming more deeply and inexorably involved in his family's "business."
Pacino gradually and ever-so-subtly develops his character into a powerful but nonetheless tragic figure : a man who has allowed himself to seduced and ultimately corrupted, to the point where he is capable of instigating the most vicious and horribly evil actions. He is consumed by a cloak of weariness which haunts him, overriding and defining his character more than any amount of power he has achieved.
Al Pacino dominated this particular decade with an blend of characters all driven by quite determination. It is the hallmark of a true actor to downplay theatrics to deliver an effective, breath-taking performance. Take his underplayed character in the movie "The Panic In Needle Park," where he turns in a naturalistic speed-ball performance. He was so believable as a heroin addict, which makes you almost want to reach out and help him. Many actors have found it hard to escape the shadow of a career-defining success, but Pacino instead used The Godfather’s acclaim as a beginning to other equally memorable and challenging roles.
The first of these was his Academy Award nominated role in Sidney Lumet’s classic cop movie, Serpico.The movie was lifted into greatness by the quality and nuance of Pacino’s performance as the titular detective. Pacino once again joined forces with director Lumet for the equally magnificent Dog Day Afternoon (1975). This film once again featured a spell-binding performance from Pacino as he played another real-life character, the clumsy and twitchy first-time bank robber, Sonny. A fourth unsuccessful Oscar nomination came in 1979 for Pacino’s role in Norman Jewison’s court room drama And Justice For All.
With his intense and gritty performances in the 70s, Pacino was an original in the acting profession. His Method approach became the process of many actors throughout time, and his unbeatable number of classic roles had made him a legend among film buffs and all aspiring actors and directors. His commitment to acting as a profession and his constant screen dominance has established him as one of movies' legends. The 70's made Al Pacino, a icon, a star, and a focal point of memorable movies ever made.