As a young man, Danny Collins (Al Pacino) burst into the music scene with a signature folk style. He did an interview in which he cited John Lennon as inspiration. Unbeknownst to Danny, Lennon wrote him a letter with his phone number and asked Danny to give him a call. Now, Danny didn’t get this letter until he was into his 70’s, but it was enough to make him quit touring and focusing on new music. When he takes up residence in a hotel, he meets Mary (Annette Bening), the hotel manager. They flirt, they tease, and she helps him gain the courage to go see his son (Bobby Cannavale) and his family for the first time.
Danny Collins showcases another very tender performance from acting legend Al Pacino, who has recently turned his entire career around and has begun acting with a softer side. He’s the reason that this film works so well, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t get help from a terrific supporting cast. What this film speaks to about age, fame, and what you do with your life once you’re over-the-hump is exemplified through Pacino’s character and how he handles his own life. The fact that this film is based on a true story makes it more interesting, as you’re always left wondering what would have happened if he had received the letter on time?
It almost seems unreal that this is already the fourth Al Pacino film that I have seen this year, but I’m certainly not complaining because I welcome this new incarnation of the actor with open arms. Having always played the eccentric and intimidating characters, it’s refreshing to see this aged man let loose and act accordingly for once in a while. He’s playing someone his age and his reality of his new life has influenced his decision to choose projects with a bit more emotional range for him. He’s past his prime, much like his character, and though he still has the power of name recognition, he’s not going to playing any role like he once did. He and his character are unsure of their next moves, but they’re hopeful. They have a spark in their eyes and they’re going to try to enjoy life and the time and opportunities that they have left. Pacino’s vulnerability allows you to see more of this heralded man and what we get to see is really special.
As the manager of the hotel and the woman whom Pacino is lusting after, Annette Bening is absolutely lovely in a role that has her balancing sass and subtle affection. She’s old enough to know how the games are played and her witty banter with Pacino is more than amusing, as it’s quite enjoyable to watch them grow close in unconventional ways. They share many comedic moments, but Bening also opens up to Pacino and bears her heart for all to see. As for Danny’s manager and the oldest man in the film, Christopher Plummer, he gets to let loose in other ways and his manager to Pacino’s character is brilliant. He’s more hip than we’d like to give him credit for and he can switch up his emotions at the drop of a hat. He’s serious when he needs to be, but Plummer genuinely seems to be enjoying messing around with Pacino and it’s so enjoyable to watch.
Rounding out the supporting cast are Cannavale and his on-screeen wife, Jennifer Garner, who each bring strong emotional fragility into the film. Cannavale is an actor who’s gaining a lot of traction in Hollywood and it’s deservedly so, as his talent is always radiating. He’s got the tough guy persona, but much like Pacino, we see a far more emotional side to Cannavale than we’re used to. We know his fears, his unanswered questions, his love for his family, and his uncertainty towards his father. Garner will always support Cannavale, but even she can see the good in Pacino and the positive effects that he can have on their family. Their family dynamic does make things hard for Pacino, but watching them slowly establish some type of bond is very sweet.
Writer/Director Dan Fogelman has written for many films before, but this is his directorial debut. Though you may not recognize the name, he’s the man responsible for: Cars, Bolt, Tangled, Crazy Stupid Love, The Guilt Trip, and Last Vegas. So, his track record is pretty mixed, with three great films and three decent ones. This film is more in the vein of Last Vegas, as we’re focusing on someone who’s out-of-date. Aside from Pacino and Bening’s characters, everyone else’s storylines seem somewhat forced and sappy. Certain things are going wrong and nothing that happens is ever unexpected, but the cast do keep you going along with it all.
Danny Collins explores an age and area that we rarely get to see in Hollywood because films about old men and post-celebrities aren’t deemed “important”. Al Pacino finds himself immersed in a role that will force you to look at him in a different, just as wonderful light. There’s beautiful music to accompany the audience through the film and the John Lennon aspect certainly adds some intrigue. If you’re looking for something different, but with a heart, Danny Collins is exactly the film that you need to seek out.
Danny Collins Trailer