Al Pacino: His Greatest Moments

As the actor turns 75, we sift through his movie highlights

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The voice. The eyes. The swagger. Pacino. Only a few get to be known by their surname alone. And with a CV that features some of the memorable film characters of the last 40 years, it's easy to forget just how good he can be.

Sure, some might mock his "hoo-haa" shouty tendencies, list his various turkeys (best try to forget Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill) or trivialize his turns as quote-friendly student icons like Scarface’s Tony Montana and The Devil’s Advocate’s John Milton.

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But few can question the ever-present intensity that makes it hard to take your eyes off.

“Some actors play characters, Al becomes them,” said his former drama teacher Lee Strasberg. “He assumes their identity so completely that he continues to live a role long after a play or movie is over. He’s one of the most complex actors I have ever met.

With three films coming up in the nest 12 months, including a Barry Levinson directed drama about an ageing actor who has lost his mojo, Pacino is still a long way from losing his.

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“I believe I have not reached my stride," he told John Lahr in his brilliant 2014 New Yorker profile, "which is why I persist.” 


10 Any Given Sunday (1999)

Whether you believe the bouffant-haired Pacino as an NFL coach is one thing, or even believe that there's enough time at half-time for a speech this long and meandering, but it's hard to deny Pacino has a way with monologues and can do more with a pause than many can do with a paragraph.

9 Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Unlike any film he’s done before or since. For a method actor to play a role so exhausting and frantic as Sonny wasn't easy for Pacino, especially off the back of shooting The Godfather Part II but Pacino nails the sense of a man in over his head and making it up as he goes along. Director Sidney Lumet called it Pacino's greatest perfromance.

8 Carlito’s Way (1993)

What Pacino manages to convey in this turn as ex-con-at-a-crossroads, Carlito Brigante, is his constant balance of bravado and insecurity, the need to show front with the desperate longing to get out. It carries the film and helps communicate the creeping sense of foreboding that this man will never escape his fate. 

7 Serpico (1973)

It's easy to view this scene as an early example of Pacino tending towards the overdramatic but in the context of Frank Serpico's isolation in a department full of bent cops, it's a perfectly played outpouring of pent up frustration and emotion. 


6 Devil’s Advocate (1997)

Pacino was accused of hamming it up in this satisfyingly OTT Nineties thriller, but when you're playing the devil, isn't that kind of the point? A renowned improviser, Pacino randomly began singing Frank Sinatra's 'It Happened In Monterey' during this sequence. It worked so well, Pacino's character mimes to the original in the finished film.

5 Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Probably David Mamet’s best adaptation from stage to screen is successful largely thanks to the sizzling interplay between the stellar cast of desperate salesman of which Pacino’s top-earning Ricky, prepared to do anything to get a sale, stands out.

4 Heat (1995)

Beyond the much-hyped Pacino v De Niro diner scene, or his memorable harrassing of various witnesses including the now legendary "great ass" scene, Al's best moments in Heat are with his his on-screen wife, somehow finding freshness within the never-off-duty-cop-with-marriage-difficulties cliché.

3 Donnie Brasco (1997)

Over the hill, exploited and mocked by his friends, living off scraps at an age he might be drawing a pension, and yet still scrabbling to survive and show the world he's a 'somebody'. Pacino's Lefty is a heartbreaking character perfectly played as both pitiful and sympathetic. That the same actor can play characters at such opposite extremes as Lefty and Tony Montana should silence any lingering assumptions about Pacino's range.

2 Scarface (1983)

Pacino has often cited the importance of physical attributes when decideing how to play a character, keeping a mental of scrapbook of postures, gaits and tics ffrom real-life for him to use in his own work. In Scarface, this is taken to such an extreme, that his entire appearance is different to anything else in his career. The shoulders, the stiff chin, the gaze – he became Tony and doesn’t leave him for a moment.

1 The Godfather (1973)

Not just a pivotal moment in one of the greatest films ever made, but a pivotal scene in Pacino's own career. This is the moment when Michael Corleone changes from quiet and thoughtful war hero to uncompromising mob boss in the making, and also when the studio realised it was worth sticking with Pacino having been far from convinced up to that point. A wise decision.



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