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This week we said farewell to another top character actor, only weeks after the tragic news of James Gandolfini.

Dennis Farina has been on our radar for more than 30 years, usually playing low-level mobsters or cops, the latter being an easier stretch as he was a cop for several years before getting his Hollywood break. His charm on screen had as much to do with where he was from as from being talented. He was Chicago to his bones, from the Midwestern twang to the protective older brother vibe that never failed to come through.

Which isn’t to say he couldn’t play ruthless and tough, he obviously could, but you never found yourself disliking his heavies. He’ll probably be most remembered for uttering the hilarious “Fuck you fuckball,” in “Get Shorty.” While that was memorable, it was by no means his best or most lasting work.

Farina had already been off the force and at the acting thing for awhile when he saddled up to play FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford, splitting screen time with a relative newcomer named William Petersen (another Chicago dude,) in 1986’s “Manhunter.” This movie never caught on and has basically been forgotten due to the success of the Anthony Hopkins versions and that is a shame, because it was and is so superior to those bloated and ugly films. Michael Mann directed and was just beginning to understand his potential for telling dark stories through colors, music, and moods. “Manhunter” remains as fresh and original as it was almost 30 years ago.

All of which was due in no small part to Farina. Petersen was superb as Will Graham, the tortured and haunted mind bender who uses Hannibal Lecktor, an imprisoned serial killer, to help him catch another. Farina is perfect as the boss everyone needs and should have, pleading at first, prodding when necessary, and finally going toe to toe with Petersen’s Graham, all to get the very best out of a talented individual.

As in all his roles, there is a guy’s guy loyalty to Farina’s Crawford. You might scream at him, fight with him, but you know he’s on your side, and if it hits the fan, he’ll be doing his best to keep you out of the line of fire. It was simply the way he was, as he proved in one film after another.

Farina, Peterson and so many others from the Windy City seem to cultivate a pure mix of strength and gentleness, along with an engaging lack of pretention, all of which makes it too easy for many to overlook and fail to appreciate their gifts.

Not that they’d ever complain about it. That, after all, is the Chicago way.

  1. jake says:

    Good call. He was a great ambassador for Chi-town