by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino
Rob: Welcome back to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
This was my first viewing of ...And Justice for All (boy, that ellipsis is irritating to type), and while I was caught off guard by its haphazard tonal shifts and often sweaty, claustrophobic point of view (otherwise known as “the ‘70s of it all”), I found myself getting into the insanity. It feels arch and prestigious at first, and you get the sense that Pacino is continuing the Important Work of films like Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon. And this is that, to an extent -- Pacino delivers dramatic monologues and slams things in anger. But he also goes on a whimsical helicopter ride with a suicidal judge (Jack Warden) and faces down his partner (Jeffrey Tambor) as he manically throws cafeteria dishes at building security. ...And Justice for All is weird. It’s got its chocolate all up in its peanut butter.
But the more I think about it, the more I think that this is a Two for the Money or an Any Given Sunday, a Pacino film with so much strange personality that it becomes endearing. Nothing about it upset me, really; it’s full of good performances and carries a resonant message about our flawed pursuit of justice. When it decides it wants to be about that, it succeeds, and I couldn’t help but get kind of caught up in its cockeyed orbit. I think that’s because none of its discordance is really discordant, if that makes sense. Everything clashes, but it’s not loud. It works enough in the ways that it has to in order to stay interesting. But boy, it’s strange.
The tone of the movie is all over the place. You mentioned Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon earlier. ...And Justice For All feels like a bridge between those films and something broader and more inexplicable like Author, Author. Pacino is really terrific in ...And Justice For All (although he doesn’t play broad comedy well...e.g. the helicopter digression with Jack Warden is something out of Used Cars), but I feel like he’s often in a different movie than the one Norman Jewison is making. It’s not the actor’s fault, because Pacino is being true to his character and the rest of the film is throwing tonal obstacles at him every five minutes. ...And Justice For All is certainly a curiosity but feels inferior to the previous Pacino-Lumet collaborations I couldn’t help compare it to. It’s firmly in the 2.5 star out of 4 group for me, but feels worse because of how incredible The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon are. ...And Justice For All is the movie Adam McKay would have made in 1979.
Rob: All of your points are well taken, and I absolutely agree that the tonal inconsistencies sink so many would-be great moments that the film can’t escape the 2.5-star range. But I think it’s my love for stuff like The Wire or Serial Season 3 — other works that address our societal ills with both brutal darkness and absurd humor — that keeps me on the mixed/positive side. They’re very different works, of course, but it’s that “laugh to keep from crying” principle (like the moment where Judge Rayford is interrupted trying to eat his shotgun in the bathroom) that occasionally gives the film a pulse, for good or ill. It could also be all my time spent as a high school teacher — a small cog in an often brutal wheel, alternately laughing and crying over the absurdity of my job, depending on the hour — that helped me connect. But we all have that feeling at work, so who knows? Any way you slice it, ...And Justice for All pales in comparison to the Serpicos and Dog Day Afternoons in Al’s filmography.
Adam: Yeah, everything on its own is fine. It’s just most of the material feels like we’re going over it twice or the conversations end up repeating the same points. I liked the theme song (“Something Funny Goin’ On”) that plays as an instrumental version over the opening credits and with lyrics during the end credits. It’s fun! JB sent me a text with a video of him singing it. He has a history with this movie that I’d love for him to tell everyone in the comments.
Rob: Nazi hunter Al? What did I do to deserve this blessing? But is it strange that The Irishman feels like a bit of a wild card right now? It’s not that I don’t have faith in Scorsese or that I don’t think he has the energy for a gangster epic (The Wolf of Wall Street was only six years ago). I just hope Bobby and Joey and Al and Harvey and the gang all bring their A-game for what looks like one of Marty’s last hurrahs in this genre. I don’t want it to feel tired, stuffy, or derivative. I know I shouldn’t even have doubts, so I’ll just classify these comments as more of a “cautious curiosity.” Either way, it’s going to be a great year for Pacino fans.
Adam: The only thing that gives me pause with The Irishman is the de-aging technology they’re using. I just don’t want to be distracted by it. I’m most excited that Joe Pesci is returning to film. I miss that guy. Next week we’ll be back with more Reserved Seating. The topic is TBD! Until next time…
Rob: These seats are reserved.