I could not stop laughing as I watched Nelson Carvajal's "Al Pacino: Full Roar"—not just because it's the most entertaining collection of over-the-top moments since Harry Hanrahan's "Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit," but because Pacino is and always has been a theatrical actor, delightfully so—a performer who manages to be big even when he's trying to be small. There's an overabundance of every emotion in every moment Pacino inhabits and in every move he makes. He sings the body electric; sometimes he screams it. He's a stripped electrical wire zapping lightning bolts into the air like those transformers in the old Universal horror films. Even when his characters are hiding or repressing things, they seem on the verge of imploding or exploding, transforming or mutating. When, in The Devil's Advocate, Pacino's Satan launches into his "absentee landlord" monologue and his face is momentarily lit up by pulses of volcanic red, it takes a moment to register it as a lighting effect, so naturally does it seem to express the lethal petulance streaming from the character's eyes, mouth, and jabbing fingers.
We live for these sorts of moments. Pacino can be wonderful when working small—see the first two Godfather films, the quiet parts of Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, his under-seen and perhaps forgotten Bobby Deerfield, and the more Willy Loman-like interludes in Donnie Brasco, in which Pacino is more likely to flinch from pain than dish it out. But introversion and reflection didn't make him a star; explosiveness did, and whether he arrives at it via "slow burn" buildup, as in the Godfather films, or launches into it full-throttle from frame one and never takes his foot off the gas (Heat, baby), it's invariably as thrilling as the sight of Jack Nicholson tearing somebody a new one, or Sean Penn contorting his face into a wet-eyed ball of anguish, or Nic Cage being Nic Cage. You listen to the whisper while waiting for THE SCREAM, OH YEAH! THAT'S RIGHT! ATTICA! ATTICA! I'D TAKE A FLAMETHROWER TO THIS PLACE! THEY PULL ME BACK IN! CUZ SHE'S GOT A GREEEAAAAAT ASS! -- Matt Zoller Seitz