Danny Collins full movie review - "Danny Collins" is a great reflection on fame, family, regrets and redemption with a fantastic cast and a terrific writer-director!
In 2010, British folk singer-songwriter Steve Tilston became aware of a letter that John Lennon had written to him in 1971, but had never reached him. Never heard of Steve Tilston?
Well, how about Al Pacino? The incident I just described inspired the film "Danny Collins" (R, 1:46), in which Pacino plays the title character who receives such a letter under similar circumstances. "Danny Collins" is not based on Tilston's life, but the true story of that letter was the spark that led to the idea for this film about fame, family, personal potential and writing your own second act for your life.
Pacino plays Collins as a hard-partying aging rock star who still lives and acts like he's in his 20s ? and still performing the songs he sang then too. An early scene shows a very young Collins being interviewed by the fictional magazine Chime and he's terrified about the prospect of fame and fortune ? mostly about what that kind of success would do to the integrity of his song writing. It turns out that John Lennon read that article and wrote Danny a letter of encouragement and offered to speak with him. Danny never got the letter. Lennon sent the letter to the magazine and the writer sold it to a collector. Forty years later, at Danny's XXth birthday party, his long-time manager and best friend Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) gifts him the framed letter which Frank came across online. Frank just sees the letter as an exciting find, but the letter hits Danny like a lightning bolt. Its words force him to contemplate the potential that he had four decades earlier and makes him question the life choices that he's made since. Danny describes what he does next as "making some changes" which turns out to be the understatement of the year. He quits the drugs ? and his 20-something girlfriend. He leaves his L.A. mansion and his current concert tour. Danny starts writing new music (for the first time in 30 years) ? in a hotel room in New Jersey. "Why New Jersey?" Frank asks. Well, that's where Danny's son lives. Although Danny had multiple marriages, the only child he fathered (as far as he knows) was the result of a one-night-stand with a fan in New Jersey. I'd say Danny wants to re-connect with that son, but the two had never met so I'll have to drop the "re".
Danny's son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale), knows who his father is, but wants nothing to do with him (even tearing up checks that Danny had sent over the years). Tom lives a quiet live in suburban New Jersey, using the last name of his mother (now deceased) and enjoying a happy family life with his wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner), and daughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). As Danny tells the hotel manager (Annette Benning), whom Danny continually asks out to dinner, becoming part of his son's life is even harder than he thought it would be. Ghosts from the past and problems in the present both get in the way of Danny's well-meaning efforts, but end up providing opportunities for progress as well. Before I get into what I thought about this movie as a whole, I'd like to talk about the multitude of talent that went into making this movie. Although Pacino has been impressing movie fans the world over since the "Godfather" films of the early 1970s, it's usually been as a tough guy or some other character whom you would probably not invite to dinner. As Danny Collins, he's a magnetic combination of charming, arrogant and vulnerable ? a true joy to watch. Similarly, Bening, who has been gracing TV and movie screens since the 80s, treats us to another of her strong but accessible characters who are as attractive emotionally as she is physically. And let's not forget Christopher Plummer, who looks and acts with an enthusiasm that belies his 85 years. Jennifer Garner, equally talented at kicking ass ("Alias", "Elektra", etc.) and taking hearts ("13 Going on 30", "The Invention of Lying", and so forth) is a terrific combination of tough and touching, while Eisenberg is wonderful as the sweet, hyper-active little girl and could be a young Garner in the making. And, last but certainly not least, Bobby Cannavale has really been coming on strong over the last couple years, bringing his own brand of toughness and vulnerability to roles in "Blue Jasmine", "Annie" and now, shining brighter than ever in "Danny Collins". Of course, a talented cast does not always a great ensemble make ("Movie 43" anyone?). It takes the sure hand of an excellent writer and director to pull it all together. Fogelman is both. He's responsible for writing some of the best movies of the last several years ("Last Vegas", "Crazy, Stupid, Love", "Tangled" and "Cars", for starters). This film is his directorial debut, but he does his job with the touch of a seasoned veteran.
Obviously, I loved this movie! Its great script and wonderfully talented cast and writer-director bring us a redemption story to which anyone old enough to have made some mistakes in life can relate. We've seen plots like this before, but rarely does it come with this much sincerity, humor and balance. The light it sheds on what it's like to be famous adds a very interesting dimension to this engaging tale of success, regret and the difficulties and rewards that always come with family. This was the rare movie that I wanted to continue much longer than it did. I wanted to spend more time with these characters and see what happens next. Hopefully, many of you reading this review will go see this movie and end up feeling them same. Either way, if movie awards season means anything at all, we may not have heard the last of the name "Danny Collins". "A"