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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

GlenGully Glen Ross: An Extended Metaphor

Posted by Tariq al Haydar

by Tariq al Hayder

"The actor becomes an emotional athlete. The process is painful — my personal life suffers."
—Al Pacino

"I've always been a caring person."
— Stephen Jackson

That recent Warriors-Lakers double-header was fun, wasn't it? I'll admit I have a soft spot for Gully State. They play with such recklessness, it's almost impossible not to love them, especially when their shots are falling. They seem like an elite band of misfits assembled solely to give basketball enjoyment. That is their raison d'etre. But instead of using a fruity French phrase to describe them, I should go back to the original gangsta, Tony Montana:

"Amigo, the only thing in this world that gives orders is balls. Balls. You got that?"

And that encapsulates your Golden State Warriors quite eloquently, doesn't it? But as I watched the third quarter of the second showdown with the Lakers, as I watched the sloppiness of their play, the bad shots, the non-existent ball movement…I realized that the Warriors are not Scarface; they are in fact Al Pacino.

Now I realize I may be getting a bit too muddled here. Why would the Warriors at their worst remind me of one of the greatest actors ever? It's simple: every actor has been in countless bad movies. De Niro was in The Fan. Jack Nicholson recently stunk it up in The Bucket List. Kevin Spacey played some kind of weird alien in K-Pax. And Denzel has really been slipping lately. But even when these actors star in bad movies, more often than not, they give good performances. Or at least passable ones. Which brings me to Al Pacino.

I will always cherish Gully State's win over Dallas last year. Just like The Godfather will always be my favorite movie. But sometimes it's difficult to watch the Warriors. It seems like they're just learning the game at times. In fact, occasionally even their victories are a product of atrocious shot selection; Derek Fisher backed off of Jax for the last shot because there was no way he was gonna jack it up from THERE, right? Well, he did. And he made it. But it could have gone horribly wrong. Similarly, Al Pacino is unique among great actors in that when he's bad, he's REALLY bad. He hams it up something awful. Seeing Al Pacino scream incoherently at the end of The Recruit just made me cringe.

The Golden State Warriors, in their current incarnation, will obviously never win a championship or even contend for one. Their exuberance consumes me, and I forget that fact. A team that boasts Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis will do that to you. Not to mention Kelenna Azubuike and Matt Barnes. Even Kobe couldn't help gushing:
"They're so unorthodox. They're basically what Phoenix used to be on steroids ... They all just jack it up. They can all handle it, they can all pass. It's pretty unbelievable."

But barren stretches like that third quarter against the Lakers make my mind wander. They make me think of what they could become if they ever acquired a low-post scorer. Elton Brand would look really good in a Warrior jersey, wouldn't he? And those meandering thoughts are what help me stomach their awful spells. The reverse is true with Pacino. He's already a legend. There was a time when he was a complex actor who gave subtle, restrained performances. Yes… restraint, that's it. That's why it was striking to see him slap Diane Keaton around in The Godfather Part II. It's because he always gave the impression of being so composed. So when he did lose it, it was powerful. Unfortunately, he has morphed in recent years into the over-acting scenery-chewer from The Devil's Advocate.

But there is still something heartening about Pacino's gradual decline. In EW's PopWatch Blog, Gary Susman explains why Pacino remains popular despite the fact that he has struggled to recapture his former greatness:
"We love to watch him command the screen with his charismatic volatility, but we also secretly hope with each role that this will be the one where he offers more, goes deeper, and illuminates a secret heart, the way he used to do."

And therein lies the secret of Gully State's appeal: Despite their flaws, you watch them with hope. Not hope of returning to a past glory, but that one day they'll figure it out. They'll add the right pieces and become truly formidable, as opposed to frustratingly spectacular. And so during this final stretch of games, with Dallas, Denver, and the Warriors in a dead heat for those last two playoff berths in the conference of the millennium, I imagine neutrals everywhere like me will be pulling for the Warriors. Because let's face it, whoever makes it out of those three will inevitably lose. Eventually. But that's not the point, is it? This is:
"On any given Sunday you're gonna win or you're gonna lose. The point is: can you win or lose like a man?"
— Al Pacino as Tony D'Amato, in Any Given Sunday

And here is the Gully response:
“We're just happy to be in the playoffs. We'll play anybody.”
—Stephen Jackson


Eboy said...

You're like a machine! Great piece!

Tariq al Hayder said...


AR said...

Pacino's best performance was in "People I Know"

Play wit it.

Tariq al Hayder said...

Alan, it seems that you have discovered a heretofore undiscovered hallucinatory substance. Please share.