MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Danny Collins’ Is Al Pacino At His Very Best


Film: Danny Collins
Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Benning
Directed by: Dan Fogelman

Set in suburban New Jersey and littered with enough product placement to please Michael Bay, Danny Collins finds love, laughter, and redemption with a runtime under two hours.

Al Pacino was born to play Danny Collins. A one-time rockstar, Collins has spent the better part of the last four decades living a lie. He’s famous, but not because of material he wrote, and every single day for as long as he can remember that fact has eaten away at his soul, all while Collins did his best to bury his pain with women, drugs, and alcohol. He’s been married three times, abandoned a child he never even took the time to meet, and can currently be found touring the country while planning his latest wedding with a woman well under half his age. He hates himself, but he has blamed everyone else for everything that has gone wrong for so long he’s pretty much accepted misery as his one true love.

On the eve of his birthday, Danny’s life is changed forever when his manager (played wonderfully by Christopher Plummer) shares a one of a kind surprise. It seems forty years prior Danny was taking part in an interview when he shared his respect and admiration for John Lennon. After reading the interview several weeks later, John Lennon wrote to Collins by way of the magazine in hopes of sharing some advice and support. The owner of the magazine recognized the potential value for such a letter and decided to not share the message with Collins. When he died, that letter went to another collector of rare antiques, and that person somehow connected with Collins’ manager. He purchased the letter immediately, and is now giving it to Danny, decades later.

I won’t spoil the film by revealing what exactly John Lennon wanted to share with Danny, but suffice to say the contents of the message are so overwhelming that they lead Danny to change nearly everything about his life. He ditches his young bride, abandons his mansion, cancels his tour, and – seemingly out of the blue – moves to a suburban New Jersey Hilton hotel. He requests a regular room, which we soon learn is large enough to fit a Steinway piano, and begins trying to make amends for all the wrong he has done in his life. He also tries to fall in love, albeit with a woman who initially has no interest in him (played by a pitch perfect Annette Benning).

If you’ve made it this far and still have no idea who Danny Collins is, don’t worry. The character portrayed by Al Pacino in this film never really existed. A message at the top of the movie claims it is slightly based on a true story, but judging from the way everything unfolds I would wager that the film’s likeness to any real events is slim to none. That doesn’t matter though, because the cast and story are so endearing you find yourself wanting to belong to a world where Danny Collins exists. He may have his troubles, but if there is anything moviegoers love it’s a redemption story, and when coupled with the caliber of talent this film boasts you have a recipe for success with universal appeal.

Pacino is a dream. I know the last decade has not treated him well, especially in the last five years, but writer/director Dan Fogelman crafted this entire story to match Pacino’s skill set and the results are nothing short of spectacular. From the moment you meet Danny Collins you want to know more about him, and before long you find yourself cheering for a person who never really existed. You want to see him find the peace he seems to be seeking, and over the course of the story you will feel everything – good and bad – that happens to him along the way.

Bobby Cannavale, playing the role of Collins’ once abandoned son, nearly steals the entire film despite only being in the latter half of the story. He has been on many critics’ radars in recent years, my own included, and now he’s finally getting the kind of roles that will take his career to the next level. His turns in Chef and Blue Jasmine, while commendable, are unable to hold a candle to the range and talent showcased within this story. If the role of Collins were not so precisely written to match the traits of Al Pacino it would be Cannavale who makes this film worth the price of admission.

The only cracks in Collins’ story, and really the film as a whole, comes from bouts with dramatic familiarity that arise from time to time when the story needs to move along. Hitting a runtime under two hours while also managing to adequately depict numerous emotional encounters between fully realized characters is no easy feat, and while the film flows like water from Niagara Falls there are a few circumstances when viewers will be able to see the next twist before it occurs. The best part about a story like this is that it has more than enough twists to keep everyone on their toes, even if everything feels a bit too familiar up front.

That one issue aside, Danny Collins is a wholly enjoyable, largely positive viewing experience that delivers equal amounts of laughter and sentiment along with a truly original story. You have never met anyone like Danny Collins before, and given how things play out I think it’s safe to say you may never have a chance to meet him again. This is his moment, or at least that is what he hopes, and viewers have a front row seat to one man’s attempts at being better than he ever knew himself to be. It’s beautiful, from beginning to end, and it leaves you with a nice perspective on life and why things are the way they are that many desperately need.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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