'Bad hair day': Al Pacino's Phil Spector divides critics

Mar 15, 2013

Can the Oscar-winner act his way past a procession of hair-raising wigs? It depends on who you listen to

Getty Images

AL PACINO'S much-anticipated portrayal of Phil Spector, the legendary music producer jailed for murdering an actress, found shot at his Los Angeles mansion, has divided critics.

When the trailer for HBO's Phil Spector was released last month, many commentators wondered if the Oscar-winner could transcend the "goofy wigs" he wears to portray the fallen music icon.

Now the complete film has been shown to a handful of US critics ahead of its 24 March screening, the answer appears to be yes, and no.

The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman says Pacino is "compelling both despite of, and because of, the wigs". The actor immerses himself in a role that "seems impossible both because Spector's outlandishness lends itself so easily to cliche and because it's often difficult for Pacino to be seen as anything but 'Al Pacino, Actor'."

"Does he get past the wigs as a device?" asks Goodman. "He does. And does he get past himself as an actor too self-identified to be someone else? He does. For that, he deserves all the credit in the world."

The actor also gets the thumbs-up from CBS News' Ken Lombardi, who says: "Pacino's knockout portrayal alone will be enough to make Phil Spector one of the more memorable TV events of the year."

But not everyone loves Pacino's turn as Spector. The actor's "mumbling, grotesque" impersonation of the producer is "something closer to Big Boy Caprice, the cartoonish gangster he played in Dick Tracy", complains Variety's Brian Lowry. As a result, Phil Spector is "watchable", but given the lofty expectations raised by HBO movies, "it's also the cinematic equivalent of a bad hair day".
The film – written and directed by the acclaimed US playwright and film maker David Mamet - is set in 2003. The story begins after the discovery of actress Lana Clarkson's body in Spector's mansion in Alhambra, California.

Spector insists it was accidental suicide – she "kissed the gun", as he puts it. His defence lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden – played by Helen Mirren – thinks he is guilty of murder at first. "But she changes her mind after meeting Spector, and the real meat of this movie is the interaction between them," writes Goodman.

Ultimately, it's the quality of Mamet's script that gives the film its power. Audiences will switch between feeling sympathy for Spector and being convinced he's a murderer, says Goodman. Better still, the film "allows two exceptional actors and a talented writer a chance to play with reality".

Phil Spector screens in the US on 24 March. A UK screening has not been scheduled.

Sign up for our daily newsletter