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Film

When Al Pacino rewrote the climactic courtroom scene in ‘And Justice for All’

Al Pacino is an actor who has always done things his own way. The form of method acting he learned at the HB Studio and Actors Studio in New York City as a young man led him to perform in roles as though he himself were embodying the very character he portrays.

Pacino has never been afraid of turning the rulebook upside down or turning down roles he did not think were suitable for him, even when he would ultimately rue missed opportunities. He even turned down a role as Han Solo in George Lucas’ Star Wars, as he felt he didn’t ‘get it’.

In one of Pacino’s most famous roles, he plays the blind, retired Vietnam War veteran Frank Slade in the 1992 movie Scent of a Woman. Pacino’s excellence as an actor is exemplified in the film’s courtroom scene when he attempts to help out a young graduate in a school disciplinary hearing. “Outta order? I’ll show you outta order!” he famously yells. The film went on earn Pacino an Oscar for Best Actor.

Yet it’s not the first time Pacino dominated the courtroom in one of his scenes. He played Baltimore defence attorney Arthur Kirkland in 1979’s And Justice for All. In many ways, the film’s scene would be echoed in Scent of a Woman, as Pacino’s Kirkland screams in the courtroom’s climactic scene, “You’re out of order! [pointing at the judge] You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order! [pointing at the jury] They’re out of order!”

Author Ira Wells has revealed, in a biography on Norman Jewison, director of And Justice for All, that Pacino actually rewrote the scene before shooting it, as he did not think it was realistic enough. In the biography, Jewison tells Wells, “I was just shocked. Pacino came to me and said he had made a few changes, and he had totally rewritten the scene. And of course it was boring! It didn’t work.”

Jewison did manage to convince Pacino to film the scene as it had initially been written, though Pacino, without doubt, will have put all his energy and experience into making it one of his most well-known scenes. Pacino once stated, “In a courtroom scene, you always use your own sense of things and sometimes you also use your own words that just come to you. What I mean by all that is what ends up on screen is not always the words that are written in the script.”

It’s a sentiment that Matthew McConaughey also expressed when he filmed the climactic courtroom scene in the 1996 film A Time To Kill: “I knew even at that point that if that final summation doesn’t absolutely nail the truth, then it doesn’t matter what the rest of my performance is like. […] This summation is the thing that has to work. If this doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter how good you do in the rest of the movie. The movie doesn’t work and your performance won’t work unless you nail this.”

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