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By Don R. Lewis | January 19, 2009

About seven or eight years ago, I was obsessed with Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation.” It was one of those films I’d somehow never seen and from the first time I saw it, I loved it. On about the third viewing I finally realized my favorite character in the film was the meek Stan, played by John Cazale. Once I realized who was playing the role, I realized he had played Fredo in the “Godfather I and II” and then I said to myself, “this guy is f*****g brilliant! Whatever happened to him?” It was then I sadly discovered he had died at the way-too-tender age of 42. I was devastated at the unfairness of this and knew we had all lost an amazing character actor. It’s this place of witnessing genius coupled with feeling the loss of someone taken so young that the documentary “I Knew it Was You” comes from. If only it were a little more in-depth.

While we learn a lot about Cazale’s roles, we’re at least three-fourths of the way through “I Knew it was You” before we meet John Cazale’s brother Steve. It’s around this time we find out Cazale and Meryl Streep were passionately in love which I never knew. Obviously, if this is strictly a tribute to the man’s acting, the point is taken and the film works. But how can that not be improved upon by digging for a deeper understanding of the subject as a person?

Throughout the film there’s interviews with peers such as Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Gene Hackman as well as rough-hewn actors influenced by Cazale like Sam Rockwell, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Steve Buschemi. There’s also several interviews with folks who directed him in plays and films including Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola. Then, like a square peg in a round hole. Brett Ratner gives some insights into Cazale. Yeah, DeNiro, Coppola, Hackman, Pacino and then…Brett Ratner. Which one of these people doesn’t belong? However a quick glance at the credits shows Ratner produced the film so at least he’s finally produced something of some importance to cinema.

From it’s awkward running time of 40 minutes to the way director Richard Shepard completely skims over the man’s life outside of acting, I just didn’t feel there was enough going on to make this doc truly special. That being said, “I Knew it Was You” is an excellent tribute piece to a fine actor and a great way to learn more about the roles and work ethic of Cazale.

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