People I Know Dan Algrant
Published May 01, 2003Ah, Al Pacino, the Dr. Jekyll of future screen legends. It can never be truly foretold which side of Pacino will arise from the murky silver nitrate vapours in any given film (or on Any Given Sunday). Will it be the intelligent character actor simmering with untapped shadowy inner conflict? Or, perhaps, the braying doofus who runs roughshod over every actor and set piece within a 60 New York block radius? Fortunately, director Algrant (Naked in New York) seems to know all the right people and he has managed to shape a low-key, high-impact Pacino performance in a film filled with potent musings on the politics of selling out.
Al plays pickled publicist Eli Wurman, a former radical leftie from Georgia who has sold his soul to the celebrity cause but manages to placate his rickety conscience with frequent star-studded benefits around Gotham. A public relations nightmare himself, Wurman is constantly downing booze and popping pills while harassing his young assistant to "Get Regis! " for his latest event. When he accidentally witnesses the murder of a starlet in her hotel room during a mutual drug-addled binge, he is drawn into a nefarious Brooks Brothers conspiracy of Democrats and demagogues, all the while harbouring the futile wish of escaping to his dead brother's Virginia farm.
While the script is prone to one-too-many soliloquies drenched in self-pity, it never falls victim to the curse of Hollywood melodrama, remaining a solidly effective character study without devolving into a cheapskate thriller. Kim Basinger, all apple-cheeked and earthy, is surprisingly effective as Wurman's moral compass, and the rest of the supporting cast is pitch perfect. But the real reason People I Know succeeds is pure Pacino, who tones it down and becomes a formidable force in the process. A few method shots of Scotch couldn't have hurt. (Alliance Atlantis)