Danny Collins (a movie review)

When I saw the trailer to this movie, I thought it would be a slow-moving story about a washed up star. I almost didn’t watch the movie, but I’m glad I did because it turned out to be a gem. Al Pacino is excellent as Danny Collins, an aging rock star who somehow gets stuck doing the same thing. That’s because he got sucked into pleasing a fan base that ironically stifles his creativity, always expecting the same old songs night after night. During the 40 years of going through the motions, he tries to forget his misery by snorting coke and drinking heavily.

On Danny’s birthday, his agent, who is played by Christopher Plummer, presents him a collectible, which is a letter written 34 years ago and was meant for him to receive at the time but didn’t because of a greedy reporter. When Danny was becoming a rising star, a reporter interviewed him for a music magazine and asked him which songwriter/musician excited him most. Danny had replied, “John Lennon.” This was mentioned in the article and apparently caught John Lennon’s attention because he wrote a letter to Danny, but had mailed it to the magazine in care of the reporter. Turns out the reporter never gave it to the then young Danny because he thought it would become a collector’s item someday. (BTW, the letter and receiving of it by a musician is based on a true story, but Danny Collins is a fictional character.)

The changes Danny makes after reflecting on the letter, which basically says to be true to yourself, are positive and life affirming. Danny leaves his mansion and a cheating fiancé, who is decades younger than he. He goes away to New Jersey, holes up in a hotel, and meets star struck, but down-to-earth people. He befriends them and appears to be on the road to redeeming himself in some ways. He stumbles along the way. Without giving away any spoilers, some things don’t exactly turn out very well, but there is hope—with different meanings.

The lines are well written. Many of the scenes are matched against John Lennon’s songs, serving as a backdrop for most of them. The soundtrack includes “Imagine,” “Beautiful Boy,” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” among others. Al Pacino has good chemistry with the other cast members: Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, and Bobby Cannavale. As an Al Pacino fan, I’ve ranked below the movies I’ve seen with him in it, with number one as the best.

1. The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III
2. Serpico
3. Scarface
4. Stand Up Guys
5. Danny Collins
6. Scarecrow
7. Cruising
8. Dog Day Afternoon
9. Sea of Love
10. Glengarry Glen Ross
11. Dick Tracy
12. Heat
13. Ocean’s Thirteen
14. Carlito’s Way
15. City Hall
16. Author! Author!
17. Two for the Money

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