Danny Collins Review

Danny Collins (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

Director: Dan Fogelman
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Stars: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer

Al Pacino is Danny Collins in Dan Fogelman’s musical and spiritual journey of a man, an artist, a performer and a vulnerable human being.

The Movie opens with Danny interviewed by a music magazine where Danny references John Lennon as a major influence.

We wind on four decades to Danny now in a corset, fake tan and hair tints performing his most famous song “Sweet Baby Love” which really is a “version” of Neil Diamond’s hit “Sweet Caroline.” He is now an ageing, alcoholic, cocaine-addicted performer, disillusioned with his current state of faking it through sold out performances, playing the same old repertoire to the same crowd.

There are echoes of various artists in the character of Collins. His early self is very reminiscent of a Lennon or a Dylan in 1971 intellectually astute and confident of his abilities and his work. The later stage of the artists career is more reminiscent of Elvis in his final years or perhaps Tom Jones or Neil Diamond (previously mentioned) chiming out the greatest hits (chicken in a basket music) night upon night to what looks like the same audience.

At this point I was already convinced we wouldn’t be seeing many flashbacks with the young Collins which I felt would have been interesting to observe and to understand how he became the person he ended up being. This was a missed opportunity as I felt Eric Michael Roy who portrayed the young Collins not only looked like a young Pacino but as an actor could have had a more filled out role an although most of his roles are in TV and TV movies perhaps Fogelman wasn’t confident enough to expose the actor to such a role (who knows)

Danny is celebrating his birthday with all his “friends” who appear to be hangers on and sycophants. His only genuine oldest and dearest friend Frank who is played by Christopher Plummer eagerly presents Danny with a gift that he has been holding on to for three months and bought it through a collector. A letter that was sent to Danny in 1971 by John Lennon, but which Danny never received.

Lennon had sent him a letter with some advice about his songwriting and suggested they meet up. Danny is shocked and traumatised as he wonders how his life might have changed if he had received the letter. Unfortunately this was held back deliberately by a former manager of Collins who knew one day the letter would be worth something to a collector and now 40 years on the letter finally reached its destination.

This story of Danny Collins I might add is based loosely on true events (in the words of the opening text to the movie “Kind of”) on the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston.

Al Pacino is enjoyable and great fun as the eccentric Collins. Pacino gives a brilliant performance in a role that you can only describe as satisfying. Pacino has perhaps being on the wrong end of some of the critics reviews in some of his more recent work but in Danny Collins he really has picked a winner here and by the looks of it really enjoys and embraces the role. Much so that there are YouTube clips out there of Pacino playing the role at random events and blasting out “Sweet Baby Love” You can never underestimate what a great actor Pacino is and although previously mentioned he may have chosen a few bad movies in recent years, his performances where never in doubt. In Danny Collins, he will make you love him, hate him, pity him and sometimes want to be him.

Annette Bening plays Mary, the flustered hotel manager in New Jersey really is the perfect role up against and side by side with Danny when he takes up temporary residence at her Hotel. Mary is the slap in the face Danny requires at times when his life is looking derailed and really is the bedrock of the story along with Plummer’s Frank.

Bobby Cannavale once more delivers the goods playing Danny’s estranged son Tom. Having Pacino and Cannavale for the film and the two sharing great chemistry in their scenes is exhilarating at times, emotional and suspense filled on when the audience is half expecting Danny to ruin what he is attempting to build with his son. Cannavale handles the role naturally and really gels with Pacino in the Father and Son scenes.

Dan Fogelman’s direction is excellent and he really nails the theme of the movie within the first 5 minutes from 1971 to Present Day and the opening shots of Danny arriving on stage really sent a message out to the viewers that we were going to be entertained for the next hour and a half. It has to be said that although the story is based on a John Lennon letter, Fogelman’s angle is only using the letter as a prop and a turning point in the story. Lennon’ music is used correctly depending on the scene and it was a joy to hear the original tracks of the man used instead of cover versions.

Danny Collins is an easy entertaining movie to watch. Seeing Al Pacino in a different role than we are used to was enjoyable and refreshing. Danny Collins is also a nice feelgood movie and better then I expected it to be. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who hasn’t watched it yet.

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