Actor James Caan, known for playing Sonny Corleon in the “Godfather,” passed away at 82. His career spanned several decades, and younger generations will likely remember Caan for his turn as the father in Jon Favreau’s Elf. Caan took on challenging roles, playing complex characters as only could, including in Michael Mann’s 1981 crime film “Theif,” about a criminal who has one last job to do for the mob before going straight.
Being a fan of science fiction, I laughed at his 3-second cameo in one of the Family Guy Star Wars spoofs (yes, that was really his voice, poking fun at the kind of brute he was in “The Godfather”). Aside from that cameo, Caan played the lead role in the science fiction film “Alien Nation,” an allegory for immigration and integration. The movie was about a group of aliens on Earth. As Newcomers who have, with difficulty, become part of human society. Caan played a police detective whose bias against these people runs deep. The film was a gritty detective movie with a science fiction twist that made it intriguing, without the usual special effects that one would expect in a story like this.
The Stephen King thriller “Misery” (1990) was a benchmark performance in his career in which he starred opposite Kathy Bates, whose performance as an obsessed fan earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The film sees Caan, a writer, rescued by Bates’ character but also left at her mercy: he must change the manuscript of his new novel in order to avoid further torture.
Caan always challenged himself with roles that were less-than-glamorous, and even his most righteous characters often worked on the wrong side of what would be morally “correct.”