' ' Cinema Romantico: In Memoriam: Dennis Farina

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Memoriam: Dennis Farina

When you think of Dennis Farina, you generally think of the long line of tough guys he played. You also think of his smile – his smile was memorable – but you think of that smile in terms of a sinister weapon. You think of him grinning like a jack-o-lantern as he pops a few caps into Delroy Lindo’s sidekick in “Get Shorty.”

That was the first film in which I can recall encountering Mr. Farina. I was home sick from school and I rented “Get Shorty” and John Travolta bops Dennis Farina in the nose and Farina goes on the warpath. It doesn’t end happily for his character, of course, but a Farina character pretty much always thought he was the king of the comedy whether the screenplay said so or not.

Well, it makes sense that Farina was so convincing as a tough guy. He grew up here in Chicago and became a Chicago cop. Being a cop in Chicago is a profession not intended for the faint of heart. He remained with it for 18 years. Then Michael Mann – longtime and brilliant chronicler of cinematic tough guys – came calling, employing Farina’s services as consultant on the set of “Thief.” A star was born.

He worked often in TV, typically in law enforcement kinda roles. He turned up for memorable parts in films like “Midnight Run” and “Snatch” and “Sidewalks of New York.” And it just goes to show – and this goes back to “Get Shorty” – that as tough as Farina often played, he also had a natural gift for comedy. Often it was an unhinged kind of comedy, but comedy nonetheless.

In Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 masterpiece “Out of Sight”, based on an Elmore Leonard novel, Farina portrayed Marshall Sisco, father to federal marshal Karen (Jennifer Lopez, who is magnificent regardless of what any J.Lo-bashers might tell you). So often parents and children on screen make no sense. I’m not talking about the way in which they look – no, I’m talking about the way in which they behave. That too often seems to get lost. Do we really believe that SHE was raised by HIM? In “Out of Sight” you believe, implicitly, that Karen was raised by Marshall. She is a chip off the old investigatin' block.

Farina is hardly in the film – just a handful of scenes – but creates a memorable character, and memorable particularly in the way he interacts with his daughter. They are presented, quite refreshingly, as pals. This is a close relationship, built on respect. Notice when he’s walking her through the airport how he chides her but doesn’t give advice, doesn’t tell her what to do. It’s called trust. And yet we can tell the inevitable strains of career (hers) are beginning to nudge them apart. And in a scene where Daughter celebrates birthday with Dad – and he gifts her a brand new gun, which is one of those moments that is so in character it resists a schlocky Cinema Romantico-ized metaphor – Farina lets that knowledge show. “We don’t talk much anymore,” he says, and as he says it he looks down in such a way to suggest that he knows why they don't talk much anymore. And that he understands why it has to be that way and, yet, still can't square with it. I can’t say for certain, but I bet every Dad with a grown-up Daughter gets misty-eyed at that scene.

Then Lopez offers: “Whaddaya say I come by next Sunday and we watch the Super Bowl together?” Farina’s face lights up – literally lights up. “I’d like that,” he says. It’s an absolutely remarkable moment. Lots and lots of films centered entirely around dads and daughters don’t have moments that genuine and moving.

Dennis Farina passed away yesterday at the age of 69. He played a lotta tough guys, true, but he always played them with love.


Rory Larry said...

im officially concerned about the Get Shorty cast. this is the second cast member to die in as many months.

Nick Prigge said...

The rule of threes, Rory! THE RULE OF THREES!!!