Movie review 'Danny Collins': Pacino steals the show as aging rocker

The film is a bittersweet reflection on reclaiming the life that could have been yours

Director: Dan Fogelman

Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer, Annete Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale

Rating: Three stars

The poet Tomas Tranströmer referred to it as having a “sister life (or lives)” in his poem The Blue House. The writer Cheryl Strayed called it “the ghost ship that didn’t carry us”. What both Tranströmer and Strayed were referring to, are the lives that could have been ours, but aren’t: The choices we made that led us down this path when we could have so easily gone down another, the love we didn’t get (or did), the relationships, the circumstances, the actions (and their consequences) that made our life what it is. If you’ve never mused over those “what ifs”, if you’ve never felt the weight of regret that those two words imply (or perhaps you’re among the luckier group that follows the question “what if” with a “thank god, it (or I) didn’t”) then you’re one of a kind indeed.

It is this question of “what might have been” that is at the heart of the new Al Pacino film, Danny Collins. Admittedly, his “if only” moment is a whole lot more dramatic than most of ours might be. Based on the true-life story of folk musician Steve Tiltson ), the film seem its protagonist Danny receive a letter from his musical hero John Lennon, 40 years after it was written.

The story begins with a young Danny — who’s only just burst out on the music scene and is already being lauded as being the Next Big Thing — giving an interview to a magazine: He says that Lennon is the musician who “gets him hardest”, and seems frightened when the interviewer asks him if all the fame, adulation and wealth that’s sure to come his way will adversely impact his songwriting.

Cut to several decades later and Danny (Pacino) is an aging rock (more pop, actually) star. He still sells out shows at stadiums but his audience is mostly one that’s nostalgic for the era of his greatest hits. Danny himself hasn’t come up with any new songs in over 30 years — even the hits he regurgitates are songs that were written by others for him, with innocuous, trite lyrics like “Hey baby doll, what’s going on?” We learn that after the first album he wrote didn’t sell, people (record company executives?) just told him what to sing and he complied. Now, getting high on drinks and drugs act as a substitute for creative satisfaction.

Already in a pensive frame of mind about what his life and his art mean, Danny’s inertia finally lifts when his closest friend and manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) gifts him a letter from Lennon. The letter was written by the former Beatle after reading that interview of Danny’s; in it, he asks the budding musician to not let fame and riches corrupt him. Unfortunately, the letter never reached Danny so he couldn’t heed the advice in it, and he’s left wondering just how different his life would have been, had he got that letter when he was meant to.

And so, fired by Lennon’s words and all the lost ideals of his youth, he sets off to seek redemption. In this case, redemption means writing his own music once again, building bridges with an illegitimate son (played by Bobby Cannavale) and his wife (Jennifer Garner) whom Danny has previously never met, and trying to quit the worst of the excesses that he’s been indulging in.

Does he find what he’s looking for? Does his life magically change? Does he manage to write the music that he was once believed capable of? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out. Rest assured though, that there are no straightforward answers to those questions.

What we can tell you, is this: That Danny has to face — just like all of us have to at some point — that there is no way to turn back the clock, and that all those “what ifs” and “what might have beens” will never come to pass. And that life — the one we have, and such as it is — is all there will ever be. The rest, it’s just the “ghost ship that didn’t carry us”.

Pacino is charming as Danny — he is also, as he is often referred to in the movie, a little bit ridiculous, more Rod Stewart than Mick Jagger. His Danny is self-centered but warm hearted, flamboyant and full of affection for even the fiancée who’s been cheating on him. Will this be counted in the pantheon of legendary Pacino performances? Probably not; but for the sheer fun and lightheartedness the legendary actor brings to the role, it rates a mention. The rest of the cast is as competent, including Annette Bening who plays Pacino’s love interest. Fittingly, the film also has a pretty cool soundtrack, with several of Lennon’s creations playing at pivotal moments.

For a story about life and how easy it is to lose our way, Danny Collins must be watched. And also for its message of hope: That sometimes, we can find our way back.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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