It is safe to say that Al Pacino hasn’t done his best work in the twilight years of his career. While there is no denying his talent, recent years haven’t been kind to the great man, as the number of films he releases dwindles and the ones he does appear in hardly set the world afire. He’s not alone in this however and he’s joined a surprisingly strong list of actors who have attempted to stage a comeback, by playing a character in a very similar position.
Like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Danny Collins sees Pacino playing a down at heels old man, still doing what he loves but not doing it in the way he wants to. Once upon a time he was compared to John Lennon, but when his first album fails to sell, he takes the tracks the studio hands him and goes on to become a star. Very good for the bank balance and the party, not so good for the creative soul. Now in his elder years, his best friend and manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) hands him a letter. A letter it turns out John Lennon wrote to him all those years ago, but for various reasons never found him. It re inspires his creativity and makes him decide to change his life.
The film itself is pretty much one big cliché. Collins moves into a hotel and starts writing songs, falls for the manager and gets in touch with his son, whom he has never met. There is nothing about that plot that is new or exciting. However, it is filled with performances that elevate it above broad strokes and turn it into a heart warming film that you want to go along with. Central to those performances is Al Pacino.
Pacino has this great ability of making Collins both devilishly charismatic and at the same time a bit pathetic. He goes through life with a smile on his face and a quip in his back pocket. If there is a problem, he tries to fix it by throwing money at it. However, underneath that he is a cynical and jaded old man who hates what he has become. The mask slips only when Pacino allows it and despite the massive contrast between the two personalities, they still both feel like the same person. He makes you care about this man, even when he is at the bottom of the barrel.
It should be said he is also aided by a strong cast, Jennifer Garner is great as his feisty daughter in law, while Annette Bening meets him quip for quip as the hotel manager that he is so desperate to sweep off her feet. However, this is without a doubt Pacino’s film and much like Collins himself, he feels like a man trying to prove he has still got it. That he is so much better than films like Jack and Jill.
Al Pacino will always be one of the greats, the films he made in the past aren’t affected by his later day work and they are still living proof of what he can do. However, in Danny Collins he at least momentarily catches some of that old magic in a bottle again, by playing a character that in many ways relates to his own situation. Whether he views it that way or not is impossible to say. But lets just hope we get a bit more of this Pacino in the years to come.