With the death of James Caan, American cinema loses one of its favorite “bad boys”, and New Hollywood, one of its leading figures.
Carried away at the age of 82, this actor with a strong temperament and an ever association with the role of the boiling Sonny, in The Godfather (the Godfather), had a unique journey. After enjoying dazzling popularity during the 1970s, he retired in the early 1980s. Miserywhich brought him back to the fore.
Ironically, this role of writer sequestered by his “most ardent admirer” (Oscar winner Kathy Bates) echoed him after the likes of Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, William Hurt, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and other Robert Redford all turned it down. That is to say how much he was no longer the flavor of the moment.
Born in 1940 in the Bronx, New York, James Caan first took an interest in sport, working at a young age in the butchery of his father, a German Jewish immigrant like his mother. At the University of Michigan, he made the football team. Then, at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, he developed an unexpected passion for the game. There, he met a certain Francis Ford Coppola.
Back in New York, he perfected his acting training for five years. His film career soon took off. Thus, after an appearance in sweet sister (Billy Wilder, 1963), a first leading role in suspense lady in a cage (Walter Grauman, 1964), as a thug who terrorizes a woman trapped in an elevator. In 1967, he replied to Simone Signoret in Games (The devil at threeby Curtis Harrington), brings together variations of diabolical by Clouzot. The following year, he headlined countdownby Robert Altman, in astronaut about to land.
The consecration comes however in 1969, when the friend Coppola directs him, vis-à-vis Shirley Knight, in the drama rain people (people of the pen). As a student expelled following a football injury, then rejected by his family, Caan is upset. The film is a business check, but the actor’s talent does not go unnoticed. 26 years old The TV movie Brian’s Song earned him an Emmy award in 1970.
The Glorious Decade
At the time, Francis Ford Coppola was already preparing The Godfather and, after legendary deliberations with the studio, Caan was offered the role of Sonny, the eldest of the Corleones, the most explosive and Casanova of the three brothers (in the city, Caan married four times and had five infants). When it was released in 1972, the film – a real phenomenon – cemented the status of James Caan, who also won an Oscar nomination.
Two of his best compositions followed: as a sailor who falls in love with a single mother prostitute in Cinderella Freedom (permission to loveby Mark Rydell, 1973), and as a compulsive gambler literature teacher in The player (The high rollerby Karel Reisz, 1974).
Throughout the decade, he multiplied leading roles in a very heterogeneous variety of projects, from cult science fiction Roller (Norman Jewison, 1975) to the musical funny lady (Herbert Ross, 1975), passing through the magnificent westerns Another man, another chance (Another man, another chanceby Claude Lelouch, 1977), with Geneviève Bujold, et al. eat a jumper (The breath of the storm, by Alan J. Pakula), with Jane Fonda. In 1981, he was brilliant in Thief (The solitaryof Michael Mann), as a safe-driller.
In the early 1980s, however, the decline of the “auteurist” movement associated with New Hollywood and the dominance of candy movies and special effects blockbusters did not fit with his vision of the craft. at the‘Orlando SentinelCaan also confides to this proposal in 1992: “A lot of medium-length films were produced then. […] It was a period in which I said to myself, “I’m not going to work anymore.” »
Another factor pushing the actor out of the spotlight was the death of his beloved sister, Barbara Caan, from leukemia at age 36. In order to fight depression, James Caan becomes a sports coach for toddlers, including his son Scott Caan, himself a future actor.
It is ultimately the lack of money that brings him back to the game. Oh Los Angeles Times, he explains, in 1991: “I was broken like a nail. I didn’t want to work, but my dogs were hungry and I could see their ribs. So I decided it was time to get back to it. »
Coppola the indestructible
Or, if his glory years are behind him, his vision of the profession has not changed.
So unhappy with the spy drama storyline The Holcroft Pact (The Holcroft Pact), he gives up in extremis : a decision which, paired with a side that he himself describes as “loudmouth”, earned him the poisonous reputation of a “difficult” actor. He is also given a cocaine addiction, the more the actor denies it, specifying that the cell makes the aura of the aura of a “bad boy” which sticks to his skin.
Either way, when he cast James Caan as a veteran-turned-instructor in stone gardens (stone gardens, 1987), Francis Ford Coppola had to fight with the studio to defend his choice. The result of a beautiful performance, poignant and nuanced.
On the immediately evoked, in 1990, the thriller Misery agitate with an electric shock on the fragile career of Caan. Bedridden for most of the film, he helps to get out of the game, natural charisma and expressive face helping. Knowing that his first success came from a movie, lady in a cagewhere he was the one tormenting an immobilized protagonist, there was a form of poetic justice there.
This belated triumph alone is enough to ensure a final golden act to James Caan’s professional life. Among the thirty films he will receive until 2021, we will retain black country flesh and bone (The linkby Steve Kloves, 1993), as a killer patriarch; bottle rocket (Wes Anderson, 1996), as a cunning burglar; Construction sites (treasonby James Gray, 2000), in shady entrepreneur; dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003), brief but memorable as a gangster dad; and elf (elfby Jon Favreau, 2010), tasty as a bitter editor who softens.
We say extremely funny and full of self-mockery. THE deadline, accomplice Coppola said on Thursday “Jimmy has been in my life longer and more closely than any other movie figure. After the debut on rain people, through all the stages of my life… His films and the many great roles he played will never be forgotten. »