These days, the news that a bunch of grizzled old Hollywood types have gotten together to make a film about aging should be received with a mixture of abject terror and disgust. The world needs another Bucket List or Last Vegas about as much as it needs nuclear warfare. Thankfully, the three right old Hollywood farts finally got together to make one of these movies. Now, it should be noted that two of them aren’t actors. They’re the deeply underrated humorist humanist director Barry Levinson (Diner, Tin Men) and the possibly even more underrated acidic satirist/screenwriter Buck Henry (The Graduate, To Die For). Together these two geriatric gents have actually created a comedy about the joys and pains of the aging white man worth seeing and to top it off, they created it for Al Pacino and got the guy to do some real acting.
Pacino stars as a formerly brilliant actor in the Al Pacino mold who just wrapped up a pretty serious emotional breakdown. Al fell off stage mid performance and the spent a little time in a mental institution. When he gets out he starts an affair with someone old enough to be his granddaughter (Greta Gerwig) and begins production on King Lear. Now, it’s worth noting at this point that it’s never entirely clear how much of the film is real as how much is delusion. Pacino plays an old man slipping into dementia and Levinson/Henry (with a big assist from Philip Roth’s novel) have a lot of fun using that as an excuse for a uniquely unreliable narrator (the Lear connection is obvious, yet well employed).
The writing/directing duo crafted a bitter comedy about the tragedy of wrinkles that’s equally funny and painful in a way that clearly inspired Pacino to a degree he hasn’t felt in years. Playing a ham actor, the man gets a chance to pull out all his “Ragin’ Al” ticks n’ tricks, but always within the setting of a performance within the film. For the most part Pacino plays his role small and pained in a heartbreakingly natural manner. That he does it all while being consistently hilarious is as much a testament to Levinson/Henry’s delicate balancing act as it is to Pacino’s masterful performance. A brilliant bit of work by three major artists that would be a perfect mic drop swan song for all concerned. (Phil Brown)
Saturday, September 13, 11:30am, Visa Screening Room (Elgin)
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