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Review: Danny Collins (2015)

Danny Collins (2015)

Directed by: Dan Fogelman

Premise: An aging rock star (Al Pacino) learns that former Beatle John Lennon was a fan of his early work. This discovery sends the rocker on a quest to change his life and career.

What Works: Danny Collins has an intriguing premise: what if, in the twilight years of your life, you were given information that might have changed the course of your career? The film is most successful when it deals with that idea. The title character of Danny Collins steps away from his rock and roll lifestyle in an attempt to redefine who he is and that leads the singer to confront the meaning of his life and contrast the kind of career he wanted with the actual legacy of his work. What is at the center of the movie is the difference between illusion and reality. Danny is billed as a musician but he can no longer carry a tune and most of the people in his life, namely his fiancé, are sycophants who are incapable of authentic human relationships. The title character goes off to find himself by tracking down his estranged son and checking into a hotel to write new music where he begins a romance with the general manager. These relationships define the character and the movie and Danny Collins benefits from some good performances. The title role is played by Al Pacino and the role makes good use of the actor’s talents. Pacino calls on the bravado that’s defined his career but it’s put to good use here; Danny is always the performer whether he’s on stage, interacting with his family, or checking into a hotel and yet there is an underlying sadness that creeps out in the quieter moments. Bobby Cannavale is cast as Danny Collins’ estranged son, who is married with one child and another on the way, and Cannavale’s performance is really impressive. The anger he feels at his father is palpable but there is also a yearning to connect with his one remaining parental figure. The scenes between father and son frequently make up the best moments of the movie. Danny Collins also benefits from two notable supporting performances. Annette Bening plays the hotel manager and she and Pacino have a nice romantic rapport. Christopher Plummer is cast as Danny Collins’ manager and Plummer does the cantankerous old man shtick very well, frequently adding humor and acting as a voice of reason.

What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of Danny Collins want us to feel empathy for the title character, but the point of the story gets muddled. This is someone who lives a life of wealth and privilege in a large house with a beautiful young trophy wife and enjoys access to private jets and luxury cars. The point of the movie is that all of this stuff is unsatisfying because Danny Collins didn’t stay true to his art. But money and materialism are easy to dismiss by people who have a lot of it and the economic politics of Danny Collins are frequently contradictory. As the character tries to patch up his relationship with his estranged son, Danny acknowledges that he cannot purchase redemption and yet he sets out doing exactly that, first by impressing his family with his tour bus, then using his connections and wealth to get his granddaughter enrolled at a special school, and later by showering her with toys. After an unexpected and very dramatic reversal that makes a mess of Danny’s circumstances, the movie is poised for a powerful, if dark, conclusion but the filmmakers lose their nerve and resort to the same materially-based appeals. Later, Danny tries to patch things up by giving away his luxury car to a hotel valet and stooping to the level of taking a cab. As a result the movie sometimes plays as a naïve rich person’s idea of modesty and it comes across condescending toward proletariat audiences. The movie mostly saves itself in the ending and the very last scene is terrifically acted by Pacino and Cannavale.

Bottom Line: Danny Collins is a mixed effort. It’s thematically scrambled but at the center of the movie is a powerful idea. The film has its heart in the right place and the cast is likable enough to compensate for the movie’s other shortcomings.

Episode: #538 (April 19, 2015)