Dennis Farina was a guy we all knew. With his consistent tan, permanent mustache, trademark Chicagoan voice, and perfect comedic timing, I’d be hard pressed to find a single fan of contemporary cinema that didn’t recognize his talents.
While I love bringing attention to excellent character actors in this column, I hate when such sad circumstances are the motivating factor for me writing about a particular actor. Yesterday morning, Dennis Farina died after suffering a blood clot in his lung. He was 69 years old, but his impact will certainly last longer.
As a Chicago cop for nearly 20 years, Farina first saw mainstream acting fame while working as a police consultant on Michael Mann’s first film, Thief. Mann asked Farina if he wanted a small role in the film, and the rest, as they say, is history. Known for playing cops, robbers, thugs and mafiosos, Farina had the rare ability to make any film or television show better. That was the power of his presence. No matter the material, he always managed to excel.
Five Essential Roles
Midnight Run (1988)
the first of many sarcastic assholes Farina would play, and we’re all better off for it.
Get Shorty (1995)
Ray “Bones” Barboni
priceless. Just try and pick a favorite Ray Bones quote. Damn near impossible. Everything this guy says and does is done with conviction, to perfection.
When I watch Farina’s performance here, I’m reminded of the work Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino do together. Tarantino and Jackson have both claimed that Jackson was born to speak Tarantino’s dialogue, and I feel the same of Farina and Ritchie. Perhaps if Ritchie had cast Farina in all of his subsequent films, the director’s career would be slightly more pronounced. But as it will remain, Avi was their only collaboration together, and crime comedy cinema should be forever grateful.
Sidewalks of New York (2001)
“Just give those bad boys a spritz and she’ll love it. Go ahead, do what I tell ya.”
There certainly aren’t too many men who could pull off a line of dialogue like that.
The Best of the Best
The Last Rites of Joe May (2011)
The Last Rites of Joe May marked a number of firsts for Dennis Farina, at least as far as my exposure to his career goes. It’s the first time I’ve seen him earn first billing on a film, and the first time I’ve seen him truly embrace his age. Joe May has a sense of humor and a temper (as most Farina characters do), but they run second to pity, helplessness and self-doubt.
When we meet Joe, he’s being released from the hospital after several weeks following a wicked bout of pneumonia. Problem is, while Joe was sick, everyone he knew assumed he was dead. His landlord rented his apartment, his car was impounded, his bartender closed his tab. Now, imagine this for a second. Imagine if you were in the hospital for seven weeks, and everyone you knew assumed you were dead. No one visited. No one called or wrote. They just assumed, “Ah, he’s gone.” Waking up and realizing no one gives a shit about you would certainly put life into perspective, and that’s the angle Farnia plays so well here.
As I watched The Last Rites of Joe May, I realized that this was the role Dennis Farina’s career was leading up to. This is the role he was born to play. This is the role he deserves to be chiefly remembered for. A shuffling, lost, old man seeking redemption in the coldest of places. A man trying to prove he’s still got a little fight left in him. A man trying to leave a lasting legacy. Tried, and achieved.
Other Notable Roles
|In Saving Private Ryan|
Miami Vice (1984-1889)
Crime Story (1986-1988)
Striking Distance (1993)
Out of Sight (1998)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Mod Squad (1999)
Reindeer Games (2000)
Big Trouble (2002)
Law & Order (2004-2006)
Empire Falls (2005)
You Kill Me (2007)
Purple Violets (2007)
Bottle Shock (2008)