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I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (DVD Review)

7 Nov, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 11/9/10
$19.99 DVD
Not rated.
Features Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Israel Horovitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell, Steve Buscemi.

He played one of the most iconic characters in film history, yet most casual film fans probably wouldn’t recognize his name. He is John Cazale, the definition of a supporting actor, who appeared in just five films, all of which went on to earn a nomination for the best-picture Oscar: The Godfather Part I and Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter.

Before he could continue that streak, he died in 1978 of lung cancer at the age of 42.

This 40-minute documentary tribute seeks to reverse some of that obscurity, due in large part to the drive of director Richard Shepard, who confesses in a touching commentary that Cazale was his favorite actor. He is not alone. This is a collection of heartfelt reflections by those he worked with and those who admire his work.

The title is a quote from Cazale’s most-famous scene, when Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) confronts Fredo (Cazale) about betraying the family in The Godfather Part II.

I Knew It Was You would be a must-see for film fans just because of the assemblage of clips from classic movies (almost all the footage that exists of Cazale comes from his films). But there’s also a line-up of legendary actors and a new generation of talent gathered to pay tribute to a man who clearly had much impact on them.

One of the most powerful moments involves Sam Rockwell reflecting on Cazale’s heartbreaking performance in the “Godfather” films, portraying his resentment about being passed over for control of the family and thus endearing himself to the audience. Rockwell cannot look at the camera as he holds back the emotion in considering what Cazale’s legacy could have been had he not died so young.

A major section of the movie is devoted to Cazale’s brief but intense romance with Meryl Streep. One of the keys to making the film, Shepard says, was getting Streep to discuss their relationship, something she had previously been reluctant to do.

The DVD also includes two Cazale short films from the 1960s, plus riveting extended interviews with Pacino and playwright Israel Horowitz, who worked with Cazale on 10 plays.

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