A frontline contender for the greatest actor of all time, Al Pacino has delivered an electrifying gallery of emotionally explosive performances since his ‘60s apprenticeship under legendary Method mentor Lee Strasberg at the infamous Actors Studio. Behind his signature volcanic temper tantrums and strutting machismo, the South Bronx native has shown an intense dedication to the craft and detail of acting that occasionally borders on obsessive-compulsive mania. In front of the camera, he glowers and erupts like a force of nature.
As a penniless high-school dropout from a broken home, Pacino was arrested in 1961 and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Several lean years followed during which he honed his skills on the New York stage before Francis Ford Coppola handed him the career-making role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, beating off superstar competition and studio hostility.
But instead of easing into mainstream star vehicles in the wake of this Oscar-nominated success, Pacino took a bold diversion into dirty realism with gritty true stories like Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Cruising. It was another scene-stealing gangster role, Brian de Palma’s Scarface in 1983, which sealed his reputation as American cinema’s champion ghetto superstar and unlikely gangsta-rap icon. But in 1985 his first serious critical and commercial flop, Revolution, sent him into virtual exile for four years.
Revitalised by a low-key return to the stage, Pacino roared back into action in the ‘90s with some of his biggest and best screen work to date. He blew away heavyweight co-stars like De Niro, Spacey and Penn in Carlito’s Way, Glengarry Glen Ross and Heat. He brought the skies crashing down in Devil’s Advocate and Any Given Sunday. But he also gave Shakespeare a surprisingly gutsy, Method-style hammering in his superlative deconstructed docu-drama, Looking For Richard. Ultimately, the best way to summarise this kind of caged-animal power is Pacino’s own catchphrase: hoo hah!