“I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.”
In his Oscar-winning performance in this very heavy 1992 film, which includes a great deal of humor as well, Al Pacino plays the role of a hell-raising, retired military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade. Slade, the ultimate anti-establishment guy, lost his eyesight as a result of juggling hand grenades during one of his reckless escapades while in the Army.
Living in retirement in his niece’s guest house, he was a bitter and very lonely individual, when a young man (Charlie) from prestigious Baird School in New Hampshire answered an ad to look after him over Thanksgiving when he would be alone. The story is far too long and complicated to go into in any kind of detail here, but the key scene is set up when Charlie gets in trouble at his school as a result of a prank played on him by his friends.
Totally unexpectedly, Lieutenant Colonel Slade shows up at Charlie’s expulsion hearing, sporting his typical snarling attitude. Just as the headmaster is getting ready to make Charlie’s expulsion official in front of the whole school, Pacino, in a performance worthy of Michael Corleone or Tony Montana, speaks out in defense of young Charlie.
Near the end of his speech, Slade says: “I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.”
In reflecting on his own screwed-up life, Lieutenant Colonel Slade’s point was that it takes courage to do the right thing, and that a lack of courage had always been his downfall. There is no worse feeling than doing something you know is wrong or not doing something you know you should be doing.
I am always amazed when I hear people say they did something they didn’t really want to do because they “had no choice.” Ringer Rule No. 324: There’s a big difference between difficult and impossible. Many things are difficult, but few are impossible.
No one can force you to take the easy way out. You always have a choice, but most people are simply not willing to pay the price of making the right choice. Which is how they end up like Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade — or worse.
By the way, this clip contains another classic line from Al Pacino speech as well: “But there is nuthin’ like a site of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that.” Heavy … very heavy. “Amputated spirit” — what a brilliant phrase to keep in mind, especially when dealing with children.
One of the great acting performances of our time: