This weekend I watched Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and …And Justice For All (1979). Seeing these movies, there were two things that struck me. One was “Wow, Al Pacino was quite handsome when he was younger,” but the thing that really made me think was how much my enjoyment of the films depended on his skills as an actor.
In both films Pacino played a lead character character with a strong personality. The two characters, a bank robber and a lawyer, could not be greater opposites, but he played each role not just convincingly, but magnetically. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him as he shook his fist and furiously spat his monologues at the NYPD or the jury of a Baltimore courtroom. He could have yelled forever and I wouldn’t even have blinked.
I feel like this is in stark contrast to modern movies where explosions, fantastic but imaginary creatures, impossible architecture, and other computer generated imagery (CGI) creations often upstage the performances of actors and actresses. In modern Hollywood blockbusters, we rarely ever get long monologues. And when we do, they’re often done in multiple takes, and cut with flashbacks, or quick shots of the setting, etc. It’s as if today’s directors don’t believe we have the attention span to watch solid acting, and that movie-goers would rather see flashy spectacles.
For instance, consider the movie Avatar. Last year, it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, 9 BAFTAs, and 4 Golden Globe awards, among dozens of other awards.* I, along with thousands of other excited Americans went to go see the movie during its opening weekend. However, thinking now, what I remember most were these poofy little neon yellow things resembling a cross between tiny jellyfish and fluffy white dandelion seeds. I remember staring in awe through my 3-D glasses as they (and various other magical components of the Na’vi forest) seemed to float right at me until they seemed close enough for me to grasp with my fingertips. The acting performances in Avatar were good, I think, or at least nothing to complain about. But they were also nothing memorable.
I love modern movies as much as the next person, but once in a while it’s truly a breath of fresh air to see a film where the movie is built around the actors and not the other way around.
Warning: video contains spoilers. Don’t watch if you haven’t seen … and Justice for All
*Al Pacino was nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globes for both Dog Day Afternoon and … and Justice for All, and received a BAFTA for his performance in Dog Day Afternoon.