5. You Don’t Know Jack (2010)
Pacino has been a force of nature on television as well and if you check out his TV movies, he’s great in nearly all of them. The best one that deserves to be on the list is “You Don’t Know Jack.” It’s bit hard to call this one underrated, since it won several awards and it’s actually a better known film than Mamet’s “Phil Spector” or recent “Paterno,” but then again, Pacino’s TV works are not widely seen or discussed anyway. So, “You Don’t Know Jack” could be the best one to check first.
This role that earned him an Emmy among other prizes and accolades gave Pacino a chance to portray maybe one of his most complex roles. There’s one scene in jail where he gets to deliver one of his finest acting moments in the 21st century. He portrays Jack Kevorkian, the pathologist and euthanasia proponent who publicly championed a terminal patient’s right to die by physician-assisted suicide. He’s claimed to have assisted at least 130 patients, to that end.
The movie dramatizes all those events pretty effectively and it tries to not take sides, leaving the viewers to make a decision on the character on their own. It manages to show both sides of the argument. It’s also one of Levinson’s best directing efforts where he manages to set a compelling and thrilling tone. Though his best achievement is definitely getting this intense and masterful performance from Pacino.
4. S1m0ne (2002)
It’s no “Gattaca,” “Lord of War” or “The Truman Show,” but Andew Niccol is an intelligent screenwriter (save for “The Host”) which is why even when the film doesn’t work, the themes he chooses make you feel involved. “S1m0ne” follows a producer whose film is endangered when his star walks off. So our main character Viktor Taransky has to find an actress who can replace her perfectly. The solution to his problem is called Simone. She is beautiful, talented, and almost perfect. However, there is a catch: Simone does not exist at all, it was created on the computer.
The movie is uneven but full of interesting ideas and moments, and it probably left its mark on cinema that one can see its influence on movies like “Her.” Niccol is in a familiar area there with social critiques and a thought-provoking storyline about where technology can take us. He’s a bit more direct with his messages and the story is a bit over-the-top, but somehow it’s still relevant and thought-provoking after all those years. Now that they’re working on bringing back James Dean and others digitally to new movies, the movie becomes even more interesting to watch right now.
3. The Merchant of Venice (2004)
One of the most underrated Shakespeare adaptations, “The Merchant of Venice” was a work that got a bit neglected because of its sensitive content for the alleged anti-Semitism of the play. But luckily Michael Radford handles everything professionally. Pacino’s character Shylock does embody some of the anti-Semitic stereotypes of the era, but Radford doesn’t portray him as an one-dimensional caricature.
It also helps that Pacino turns him into a multi-dimensional, interesting, and complex character. He’s not flawed because of his ethnicity or religion; he’s flawed because he’s a human being. It’s one of Pacino’s most overlooked, incredible performances. He goes through many feelings and emotions through the entire performance and it’s always a joy to watch him. The supporting cast, especially Jeremy Irons, is all great.
The production design is brilliant, creating such a unique vision of the Venice of its era. Wonderful costume work and a dark, atmospheric tone for the movie are other highlights of this great adaptation. Those empathetic characterizations help this movie to appeal to more than just Shakespeare fans. Sometimes the language use can make it hard to watch, but on the whole, it’s a fresh, often strong rework of Shakespeare.
2. Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Maybe because it was a Pre-Godfather era movie, “Panic in Needle Park” doesn’t often get a mention alongside great Pacino performances of its decade, but it’s a brilliant performance yet again. Pacino’s first starring role clearly shows what he will become in the future. It’s also one of the best drug-themed films ever and should be mentioned alongside “Requiem for a Dream,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” “Christiane F” and “Trainspotting.” It also works fine as a warning against drugs.
Written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, adapted from the 1966 novel by James Mills, “Panic in Needle Park” follows the romance between a young addicted man and a homeless girl who refuses to go back to her dysfunctional family. Over time, she becomes addicted as well and everything goes downhill.
The movie has the right kind of tone that makes you care about the characters. It’s also a pretty dark movie, and its depressing tone may turn off some viewers. Not only for that, but also because of the graphic drug scenes. At the same time, everything comes off as very naturalistic and realistic. Overall, it’s a well-made character study of urban drug addicts and a strong effort worth watching in general.
1. Scarecrow (1973)
Two strangers on the road. Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, two of the greatest actors of all time headlining a film together should be enough of a reason to watch “Scarecrow,” but fortunately it’s more than that. In fact, it’s arguably one of the best road/drifter movies ever.
However it doesn’t always get mentioned alongside “The Godfather,” “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon” when we talk about Pacino classics of the era. Sure, it’s more of a simple story in comparison, but the results are heartbreaking. Just watch the scene where he explains to Gene why he can’t call his wife, but has to see her in person so he can see his kid for the first time. You’ll see once again why he is one of the greatest actors of all time.
The film is about an ex-con drifter and a homeless ex-sailor going to the east together. There are some obvious influences, maybe “Midnight Cowboy” in particular, but it’s an original film on its own, a kind of heartbreaking one as well. And like the comic and tragic tones complete each other in the film, Hackman and Pacino do the same. It’s not like they “outshine” each other or anything; they complete each other and create a magic duo for the movie.
The only flaw with the film could be how overlong it is, but thanks to them, you just don’t mind it. And unlike most of the post-Godfather roles, it almost gives Pacino to shine as a somewhat quirky character actor. Overlooked for too long, now it’s time to recognize “Scarecrow” for its great melancholy, for its sense of humour and terrific acting.