by John Patterson
John Patterson is relieved to see Al Pacino finally getting his teeth into a juicy role - rather than the scenery
Saturday 7 February 2004 01.37 GMT
t's been a while since Al Pacino was last seen working at full strength. That's not to say he hasn't been busy. Far from it, he's been churning out the movies at a fair old rate the last couple of years. It's just that, although Al never gives less than his full-throated, mad-eyed all, most of his recent projects haven't come close to deserving him.
He nearly carried the slim, virtual-star conceit of Simone all by himself, through sheer force of demented will, but in the end it was beyond even him. Insomnia required that he looked hollow-eyed and jetlagged and insanely sleep-depped - no stretch there - but the movie's derivative, remake feel and the embarrassing weakness of his supporting players left him punching the air around him for two hours. The Recruit was essentially a Colin Farrell movie, with Al in psycho-uncle support mode. His latest, this week's People I Know, hardly won over the US critics, and let's not even mention Gigli. We've been waiting for some time for a return to the glories of Heat, Donnie Brasco and The Insider.
So let us welcome the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner's great stage play Angels In America (pictured) on C4, and the plum role of Roy Cohn, right there for Al to pluck, peel and chew. Cohn was an authentic monster of the cold war. As a junior New York City prosecutor, he personally made sure that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg went to the electric chair for treason. He became special counsel to the witch-hunting senator Joseph McCarthy, and brought his own distilled brand of malice to the HUAC proceedings. A closeted homosexual who publicly hounded gays, a self-hating Jew who harried his people through the courts, he made a career of, and a fortune from, his malevolence and hypocrisy, and died of Aids in 1986, claiming to the last gasp that he wasn't gay. Only Al could find the real person under all that bile and hatred, and so he does, offering us every shade of Cohn's villainy and street-fighting ferocity, living in all the parts of his hoarse, gravelly voice, that magnificent instrument for invective and manipulation. (James Woods, incidentally, gave his best-ever performance as Cohn in the biopic Citizen Cohn.) It's our first extended look at how the senior Al will handle the autumnal years that lie ahead of him. So far, everything looks great.
Career high The first two Godfathers, Serpico, Glengary Glenross, Heat, Angels In America.
Career low Well, apart from Gigli... Revolution, Godfather III, Bobby Deerfield and Cruising.
Need to know Yes, his grandparents really were from Corleone, Sicily. Confusingly, his nickname is "Sonny".
The last word On turning down Apocalypse Now after having done two Godfathers with Coppola: "I'll do anything for Francis - I just won't go to war with him!"