Dennis Farina: 1944 – 2013

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July 23, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Steve Secular

I can’t remember the first time I recognized Dennis Farina.

Well, let me explain: If you’ve watched enough movies or TV shows, at some point you’ve come across Dennis Farina. The wave of dark and graying hair, a mustache as iconic as Tom Selleck’s mythical stache. The man has had so many great and memorable roles, some as the lead and some as a crucial bit player. So I can’t remember the first time that I recognized him as Dennis Farina, the guy who kept popping up as so many entertaining characters.

Maybe it was Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 ensemble crime flick, where Farina played father to Jennifer Lopez’s Karen Sisco. I already knew he was the guy from Get Shorty, and the charismatic Avi from Snatch. He was either cop or he was criminal, but he was always cool, always witty, always charismatic. He’s like a charming conman uncle, who’s so charming you can’t help but forgive/admire him.

Except in real life, Farina wasn’t the greased up con man at all – he was the cop. For 18 years, Farina was a police officer in the Chicago Police Department. Then Michael Mann hired him as a police consultant, which led to a bit part in Mann’s Thief in 1981, which then led to a leading role in the Mann-produced, now-underrated TV show Crime Story.

And it was Farina that made these roles so great, roles that could have easily been forgettable, or altogether unimportant. Farina was these characters, imbuing them with real qualities, real mannerisms. Maybe it was because you always half-believed he was exactly like those characters in real life, sort of like a more amiable version of Danny Trejo.

But then there was Midnight Run, where he played crime boss Jimmy Serrano. I happened to rewatch the movie the other day, just because it was on and it’s so damn entertaining. I had forgotten how good Farina was as Serrano. He’s more than just the usual charm here, the quick-witted and exasperated crook. Farina is dark here. He’s witty, but he’s methodical, he’s purposeful, he’s cold.

Towards the end of the movie, he steps into a limo and sits down across from the now-captive Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin in his best performance), the man who’s stolen millions from his crime syndicate. Serrano goes cold: “Did you actually think you were gonna steal my money and get away with it? I stopped by here to tell you two things. Number one is that you’re gonna die tonight. Number two – I’m gonna go home, have a nice hot meal, I’m gonna find your wife, and I’m gonna kill her too.”

I got chills. Farina was doing Farina the way only Farina could.

And then I heard the news he had passed, at 69 years old. This may sound strange, but I had actually thought Farina already passed away earlier this year. Not because he was old, because he obviously wasn’t, or because he lived hard, because he didn’t. No, it was because in his most recent role, as Nick Miller’s father Walt on New Girl, the character had died in an episode this March. Farina was so believable in his role as Nick’s absent but loving conman father, a character who seemed to embody the city of Chicago, like Farina himself, that when the show held a funeral for Walt in the perfectly titled episode “Chicago,” a part of me felt like I was mourning Farina himself.

Now this may sound completely damn insane that I got so emotionally invested in New Girl that I subconsciously believed it was real – and that I didn’t question Farina coming back post-death for a flashback episode. But I’d like to think otherwise. I’d like to think it’s a compliment to how great the show is, and more importantly, to how great Dennis Farina was on New Girl and in any of his roles. He was just a bit player on the show, and when his character died I felt something. When Jimmy Serrano threatened Mardukas’s life, I felt something, when Cousin Avi finally comes to London in Snatch I was excited and entertained, if nothing else. That’s why Farina was great too. If nothing else, he made me feel something.

Farina’s last lines as Walt Miller came in that flashback episode, sitting down to give his son advice, after Nick had been too nervous to lose his virginity and feels embarrassed. “Listen, Nicky,” he says, “You don’t have to anything that you don’t wanna do. I just wanna make sure you don’t miss out on things in life that are happening when you’re not thinking. Because, believe you me, those are the best things in life.”

Dennis Farina, here’s to you.

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