The Quiet Brilliance of Joe Pesci

The iconic actor, now 76, is back after a decade and delivering some of the best work of his career.

Let’s cut straight to it: Joe Pesci is the man.

For decades, the low-key brilliance of his acting has delivered a range of complex and memorable performances, from the misanthropic Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas, to the hilarious Vincent LaGuardia Gambini in My Cousin Vinny.

His part in the 1990 mafia saga earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. When the humbled artist took the stage, he offered just five words: “It’s my privilege. Thank you.”

And all these years later, in an era fueled by the turbulent bluster of social media, it’s refreshing that the 76-year-old actor is still keeping the focus on the craft and away from himself.

Even his comeback, following a 9-year hiatus, was understated.

After walking away from the industry in 2010 because of typecasting, he reluctantly returned to play real-life mob boss Russell Bufalino in an evolutionary and nuanced way in Martin Scorsese’s new film.

Travis M. Andrews, from The Washington Post, writes:

“The Irishman” is about growing older, perhaps growing irrelevant, and looking back at all the choices that make up a life. It’s about time and regret. Pesci gives a phenomenal performance as Russell Bufalino, a mobster who takes hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) under his wing. Unlike the characters of his past, Pesci’s Bufalino is a somewhat quiet, extraordinarily measured man. Business is business, but there’s no personal score settling, no nonsense. After nearly a decade, Pesci returned with the most thoughtful, restrained performance of his career.

Take a look at some of Pesci’s most memorable performances

Goodfellas: Known for its punch line but not its back story, this scene was filled with improvised dialogue that Pesci sourced from a real-life encounter. (A young Pesci was a waiter at a New York restaurant and told a wiseguy that he was funny. Needless to say, the mobster didn’t take this compliment too well.)

My Cousin Vinny: “My biological clock (stomp, stomp, stomp) is ticking like this!” Pesci’s ever-escalating rebuttal to Marisa Tomei (Mona Lisa Vito), paired with his facial gestures, completes the scene.

Casino: The audience feels the banker’s apprehension, which turns to terror, as Pesci channels Nicky Santoro’s murderous rage.

A Bronx Tale: With the measured pacing of his dialogue and the slow changes in expression, Pesci creates a stillness in the scene that draws the audience in.

Lethal Weapon 4: And, last but not least, there is Pesci’s quirky role as Leo Getz. The buddy cop flicks took a mediocre turn, but it was Pesci who ended the series on a genuine and tenderhearted note.

To the iconic actor from Jersey, we have but one word: Salute.


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