Oscar Isaac and Al Pacino

I can’t get these two great actors out of my head. Especially after watching Isaac in A Most Violent Year, Two Faces of January, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Ex Machina. With Pacino, I revisited The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Insider. Physically, they could be father/son. There is a two inch difference in height. Their tenor voices are smooth. Same chins, brows, hair, long noses, and body frames.

It’s their talent, however, that has me boxing them together.


Internally, their characters contemplate, sizzle with energy, and powerfully control their world.  Externally, their soft-spoken responses are calculated, laconic. They are both great at giving cool, deadpan deliveries and explosive reactions in one sitting. Their full-range sensibilities have me captivated every time they are on the screen.


As he ages, I predict Oscar Isaac’s voice will change into a grittier, growling pitch you recognize Pacino having in Scent of a Woman. I do not claim that Oscar Isaac is a better actor than Al Pacino or that he will grow into an iconic status as Pacino. Maybe Isaac will as the new Hans Solo of sorts in the Star Wars reboot? In 2016, he will appear as the villain in X-Men:Apocalypse. He’s stepped into the blockbuster arena.

I confess, this saddens me. I suppose he’d be crazy not to do these roles, but you never saw Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro or Marlon Brando play a superhero.  It didn’t help Jack Nicholson’s career as the Joker or Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles in Dick Tracy. It hasn’t helped Christian Bale as Batman, Ewan McGregor’s career as Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, or James McAvoy as Xavier. Money in their pocket? Sure. Able to score in a blockbuster? Yes.

They all could be contenders. Do they regret the time it takes afterwards, shaking off their costumes, and trying to be taken seriously again with varying results? Would Oscar Isaac be better off not going down this path? Sounds like the premise behind Birdman, doesn’t it?

Oscar Isaac has the talent to earn any “best acting” award out there. He’s to be taken seriously. I hate the thought of him in front of a green screen. Give him his Scarface. Let him shine in his own personal Scent of a Woman. I want to see him stretch as an actor, not buying into franchises that are redundant and predictable.

Yes, I am convinced he will be just fine in Star Wars 7,8,9, but I fear we’ll be saying goodbye to greatness.

That’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

47 Comments on “Oscar Isaac and Al Pacino

  1. Just as i considered in a most violent year a yearning to be the godfather, so did i find this actor’s performance as nothing more than a pacino impersonation- for which i blame the director. i liked him in ex machina and llewin davis, but he didnt remind me of pacino at all in either of those roles. addendum: brando didnt play a super hero, but he did play superman’s dad.

    • True, to that, Brando as Superman’s dad. I don’t think A Most Violent Year is anywhere near The Godfather. I think the kid has potential and I hate to see it wasted.

      • i didnt think it came close to the godfather either, but i do think the godfather was very much on Writer-director J.C. Chandor’s mind when he made this picture. lets hope oscar isaac has brillliant career ahead of him. he is fresh enough in the game that he might even work as the new james bond.

  2. no, he is not even in the running as far as i know. but i think he would make a terrific bond, especially since he is not that well known yet. of course he would have to go to charm school first.

  3. A new actor for me, Cindy, but I do have llewin davis recorded and ready to play, so no doubt I’ll have a heightened sense of expectation after having read your post.
    Pacino? Good heavens, that is a lot to live up to. But I suppose if you’re going to eat an elephant, it’s best to do it one bite at a time, right?

    • Lovely analogy, Shelley :). ILD is a film full of wonderful music and Oscar Isaac plays the Schleprock perfectly. And, watch him in a dynamic way in ‘Ex-Machina’.

  4. More than a couple of actors have bowed to a buck at the cost of us losing their chops. Too bad. Always liked Al though. He has a good body of work.

    • It would be hard to say no to being the next Hans Solo….He will go from movie star to super star. Hope he handles the transition!

  5. It’s interesting how the temptation to sell out lurks in all fields and industries. Business as well as art (and those where the two interface). Pacino IS cool. De Niro even cooler (until the dumb comedies). =)

    • I’m all for branching out and being well rounded but De Niro’s parodying himself is getting old. I hope Isaac’s move is a positive one for him. He’s got such talent.

  6. I have to agree that the blockbuster/superhero route more or less caps an acting career. Hard to come back later in life as a ‘distinguished’ actor, when everyone remembers you as the ‘villain from X-Men’. Some actors can manage to redeem themselves though. After ‘Scent Of A Woman’, which I hated, I switched off of Pacino. Then along came ‘Donnie Brasco’, and I loved him again…
    Best wishes from England. Pete.

    • Hi Pete! You didn’t like ‘Scent of a Woman’, huh? Pacino is one of the rare breeds who takes himself/career seriously–for better or worse. After looking at ‘The Insider’, I saw the similarities between corporate news vs. journalism and it was pretty easy to make the stretch to Hollywood vs. artistic film. Both are hard industries to survive in and hold onto your integrity.

  7. Each moment I am more and more sickened that he is playing Hans Solo, and so will never be the new Bond the world so desperately needs. The original Italian version of Scent of a Woman was much better than the pacino remake. cindy, did you ever see pacino onstage? I saw hin in american Buffalo, and it was amazing. I think playing that same character night after night though stifled his growth. took him a long time to distance himself from that part.

    • I have not. I loved the film version of him in The Merchant of Venice, though. Can’t wait to see the new Bond film. Yes, we need a new hero!

      • I am not a fan of the James Bond franchise. (Sorry!) But surely he has to played by a British Actor, or what’s the point of the Ian Fleming books? I could be wrong of course. I am often wrong, more so as I get older…

        • That’s a good point. I think Fassbender fits the physical type–tall dark and handsome. It will be interesting to see who is in the running!

  8. Well, Pacino was also in Dick Tracy, and I would argue that Batman SAVED Bale’s career, made him relevant and was partially the reason he was given The Fighter and won his Oscar…but I get the concern.

    • Ha, ha, Andrew–nice defense–I disagree with Bale needing saving, but he did deserve the Oscar for The Fighter–he was amazing. He also played Batman well, so I don’t grumble too much. Thanks for your input.

  9. I love Pacino and I’ve grown to really appreciate Isaac. He’s been fantastic in everything in which I’ve seen him. Never struck me to compare the two until reading this and, I must say, you make a great argument for doing so. I’m sure I’ll never look at Isaac the same ever again.

    I do think you’re off-base on the superhero thing, though. Pacino, DeNiro, and Brando didn’t play superheroes not out of some lofty ideals, but because conventional wisdom at the time was that comic book movies don’t work. They didn’t sell. On the other hand, crime dramas did. So these guys were in the blockbusters of their day. Besides, Brando did play Superman’s dad. Not only was Pacino Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy, he earned an Oscar nom for it. There just isn’t the same stigma attached to playing in these movies as there used to be. Portaying a superhero, or appearing in other huge cgi driven movies hasn’t hurt any of the actors you named. Bale won his Oscar between Bat-flicks, Jennifer Lawrence between Hunger Games movies. So I do think Isaac would be crazy not to do X-men, and the like, if for no other reason than the potential millions he can earn. I think whether he achieves greatness will be determined by the projects he chooses between and after superhero flicks. It’s even possible he’ll reach greatness within them.

    • Hi Wendell, and thanks for your comments. Yep, others have pointed out the flaws in my reasoning. I like your input that crime flicks were the blockbuster of their day. In fact, since Brando, Hoffman, and Pacino (How did I forget him in Dick Tracy?) paved the way, so to speak, stars of today could very well say, “Heck, if Marlon Brando can be Superman’s father, why can’t I be a Superhero?” Yes, the $ and the catapult to super stardom by playing CGI driven blockbusters and your mentioning Lawrence and Bale achieving ultimate commercial and artistic achievement has me seeing your side. Entertainment and money is the name of the game in Hollywood. I think they know they are in their moment and will do it all while the iron is hot. I’m thinking of lofty ideals of “true” art–which is always a bad idea. After all, I love Andy Warhol, 80s British Pop, and Star Trek — completely swooned by all that commercial stuff. l better stop being a snob. 😉

  10. Ha!! “cool, deadpan deliveries”, that’s soooo true about Pacino.
    Oscar Isaac – I’ve only seen him in, ‘Che’, ‘Balibo’ and ‘The Two Faces of January’. He was good enough, but I didn’t see anything great, so I can’t really compare his work to Pacino. But am really keen on checking out ‘Inside Llewyn Davis (when I can), and I have a feeling, he’s most probably superb in that.
    And I do agree, when these actors end up getting caught to these useless franchises, just for money, it ruins their career. Those movies are here today and gone tomorrow.
    Plus am not a fan of the ‘Green Screen’.
    I haven’t seen ‘Birdman’ either, I’d love to.

    • Thanks, Nuwansen. There’s been some fine counter-opinions, defending the CGI Blockbuster here in this post. I like the idea of “capping” a career, or diverting them from making good dramas — Nicolas Cage comes to mind, and even Johnny Depp in Pirates. Anyway, Isaac is really growing for me — hope you get to see him Ex Machina and ILD soon.

  11. Definitely not just you. But I think Isaac’s a chameleon. He’s different every time I see him. And he’s always good.

    • Yes! Even though he’s been around for 20 years, he’s now blossoming and given roles that are allowing him to grow and change. That’s what I wanted him to keep doing–I think he could be the next Pacino if he played his career right, and I don’t think it will happen by starring in Star Wars and X-Men.

  12. How could I miss this post?? Mighty awesome! LOVE Oscar Isaac since I saw him as Prince John in Robin Hood. I hear ya about him signing on to these huge blockbusters. I’m torn about that too… I always like actors who are under the radar, like my dahling Stanley now. But eventually they’d sign on to these big things and somehow, they kind of lost their *luster* if you will, at least to me. I remember loving Gerry Butler before Hollywood placed him in those awful rom-coms.

    But then again, it’s really up to the actors themselves to still pick interesting roles and I hope Isaac can balance the big movies w/ smaller, more character-driven films. I have a feeling Stanley will get discovered once he appears in Outlander 2 (a show I think YOU would love) and he’d probably get offers in Marvel or other superhero roles given his good looks & physiques. But his passion is theater (and Shakespeare) so I hope he remains true to that. So I have the same hope for Stanley as you & I do for Isaac, and that these ‘green screen’ type of movies are just a small part of their illustrious resume in the end, instead of dominating it!

    • Ruth, you opinion means a lot! Glad you found this post ;). Wellll, as some above had stated, some seem un-scarred (Bale & Lawrence) but the list grows longer for others–add Eric Bana and Ed Norton to the Hulk list–and your recent crush on Stanley–I haven’t seen him in anything, yet, so I don’t know, but you turned me on to Toby Stephens, so I reckon Stanley will impress!

      • I feel bad about Eric Bana, he’s the best thing in TROY! I can’t stand Brad Pitt, never did never will. Same w/ Ed Norton, whatever happen to him? But hopefully w/ Birdman he’ll get more interesting roles again.

        Stanley’s not in the same league (yet) in terms of acting experience, but there’s almost a 20-yr gap in age so naturally. He’s passionate about the stage though, like his dad Jacques Weber who’s quite famous in France. If you have Netflix, check out ‘Not Another Happy Ending’ – it’s a pretty fun rom-com but Stanley’s the reason to see it! 😛

  13. Hey Cindy, cool post! I really like Isaac, he’s done some really interesting stuff so far. Fortunately I think that he’ll still be reasonably hot property once these superhero films are out the way, i guess then it just depends whether he actually wants to do the smaller films or not. Blockbusters are almost seen as the pinnacle of films these days, probably because they usually bring in the most money, but i really hope he does some smaller things at some point again.

    • Chris! Hiya, there, thanks for joining the discussion. Isaac is diverse and there’s subtlety and depth I like to see. What a diverse set of characters! He’s no stock actor. Isaac makes a flawed film not seem so, and I can’t keep my eyes off him–his expressions, body language–he has a commanding presence. I have a great fondness for Christian Bale and Isaac is in that spot in my head. I had hopes of watching Isaac take on exciting roles and grow his reputation that way. Let’s see if his being Hans Solo doesn’t hurt his career.

  14. Pingback: Everybody’s Chattin’ + This Week’s Questions on Top 3 films of 2015 so far |

  15. I don’t think starring in blockbusters is necessarily going to end anyone’s career. If anything, it widens their audience and marketability, though not all green-screen films are equal. People who watch movies only casually will be more likely to see the next Star Wars than Inside Llewyn Davis, and high-profile roles might convince them to see other films they might have skipped. Harrison Ford did some of his best work after Star Wars. I’d say it’s up to the actor to make good role choices and consistently prove their chops. Isaac seems to be doing just that so I have high hopes for his future.

    • Hi SG, thanks for your input! Others have agreed with you in the discussion, and I see your point. Yes, it’s certainly up to the individual actor and i know if I were in Isaac’s shoes I am sure I would sign on and hope for the best that as the new Hans Solo, it helped my career more than hurt it. When I talk to people now, not many know him today. Star Wars will make him a household name. Ta!

  16. Fascinating topic Cindy, once again. I have honestly never stopped to consider how his blockbuster visibility may indeed negatively affect his career (or at the very least, do nothing for it). Considreing I’ve already decided I won’t be seeing the new Star Wars, I’ll leave it up to others to tell me how they found him. I just can’t get invested in Star Wars. At all. I am kind of excited to see his stamp on the X-Men Franchise, though. I think he’ll do well there. But I have to admit it’s odd seeing him becoming quite so visible, for lack of a better word. I’d prefer if he kept a bit of a lower profile, sticking more to things like Ex Machina and Llewyn Davis. Although the former has become such a big film and has received so much praise it seems to be turning into a mini-blockbuster sci-fi of it’s very own. 🙂

    One point I would like to contend with here is that I think Batman has really helped out Christian Bale. That man has had a successful thing going on before that film but it’s not until he took on the cape and cowl that I, personally, took notice of his ability to command the screen on his own. Sure he had the backing of the Nolan brother’s genius to boost him but he was so excellent in that trilogy. He’s since become one of my favorites. I get excited every time I see him on a casting log. But then again, that might just be my preference. That might not say much about his career per se. I just think he’s become more popular since those days.

    • Tom, since I’m a tad older than you, I appreciated his career and watched him grow up on the screen, so he was already big in my estimation. I do think he was a great Batman and I enjoyed the trilogy a lot. No, it hasn’t hurt his career. You are right.

  17. I am liking Oscar Isaac more and more lately and loved his performance in A Most Violent Year so much. It made me think of Al Pacino too the whole time I was watching it. I don’t worry too much about his X-Men casting. Some actors get stuck in those roles and others don’t. Actors like Ncolas Cage, Halle berry, and Angelina Jolie all won Oscars and then ruined it by doing too many cartoons. But Christian Bale, apart from being an amazing Batman, really got a lot of exposure taking the part and I think if there’s any obstacles to taking him seriously it’s his behaviour off-screen. Michael Fassebender also benefited a lot from playing Magneto.
    I really like this post, Cindy. I am especially glad that you recognized The Insider as essential viewing for a Pacino post.

    • Hi Matt! So happy for the great comment and contribution to the discussion. Bale has been a personal favorite of mine ever since he started out as a boy in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. For me, all his performances are exciting. Batman is no exception. And yes, it didn’t hurt his career at all, he still came out winning oscars after the fact. I hope the same happens for Oscar. I think because he’s just now blossoming as a truly fine actor, I hope he doesn’t get derailed. The Insider was great and I liked the chemistry between Pacino and Russell Crowe. But back to Oscar and Bale–I’m so EXCITED to hear about the upcoming historical drama ‘The Promise’ starring both these brilliant men. Oh, it could be contender!

  18. Bale recently stated he regrets not taking the role of Batman again and feel a little down seeing Affleck in the suit. Bale, I think, still has the clout to be great, and even won the Oscar while in the middle of his batman era. Isaac is a tremendous talent, and from what little I’ve gleaned from the new Star Wars, a lot is going to be practical and avoiding the green screen. He may actually help elevate it, but I totally get it. He’s bound to three in the series and it might hurt him in the long run. Very good comparison and well-written piece. Always nice reading your work, Cindy.

    • Hi David, thanks for the kind words! I can hardly stomach Ben Affleck. Never could. He’s so overrated in my book. However, Isaac, well, there’s a different story. I can’t wait to see Bale and Isaac on the screen together!

      • Agreed. There is something off-putting about Affleck. He’s good behind the camera though. I am not really excited fort he new Superman v Batman film, but watching him it makes me less interested even though the character does some very cool things in the trailer.
        Isaac is going to be a mega-star. No doubt.

  19. Oscar Izaac.. Well I really hate to admit this, but I don’t know who he is;( but you can bet I’m going to find out now;)
    Thanks Cindy , great write up .. Who doesn’t like Al Pacino;)!

  20. Two great actors – one great post! I’ve been lovin’ Oscar for a while. Even in the small stuff: villain in the CGI-heavy Sucker Punch & quietly intense agent in Bourne Legacy, etc.

    Mega-budget Blockbusters, though, may the only current edge Hollywood still has over the growing Cable, Online, Indie, Kickstarter’d, and Streaming competitors.

    Either way, Isaac’s got nowhere to go but up – imho.

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