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Face-Off: Al Pacino vs. Robert De Niro

04.19.2012by: Paul Huffman
Last week saw the closest Face Off we've had so far with John McClane barely getting the upper hand on Martin Riggs with a score of 14-13.

This week we've chosen to go with what I believe will be another close race, two legendary actors, two legendary careers that have spanned many years but have intersected a mere three times. I'm talking about Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Both of these men have made mistakes when it comes to choices of roles over the years, but when they hit it out of the park, boy do they.

Breakout Role
The studios were not convinced that Al had what it took to make The Godfather a success. Paramount was determined to have the role of Michael Corleone played by the likes of Robert Redford or Warren Beaty, Coppola wouldn't budge. Then came time to shoot the scene in the diner in which Michael Corleone made the shift from black sheep of the family to gangster, and based on his performance in that scene everyone was hooked. Al portrayed a tragic hero that oozed with power and menace, and kept us liking him. The rest is history.
Mean Streets was Bobby D's first collaboration with Martin Scorsese and his performance as the out of control best friend of Harvey Keitel's character did its job in turning all the right heads. De Niro was out of control, you were unsure of what his next move was going to be, and what his limits were. Turns out there were none. Shades of the type of character's his buddy Joe Pesci would later play in Scorsese's films.
Best Gangster
Pacino has played every type of gangster under the sun: the reluctant gangster, the over the top drug lord, a reformed ex-con who just wants to fly right, and a half wit who befriended an undercover cop and brought the whole party down. His best roles are when he's been on the wrong side of the law, he has a blast getting lost in these characters, and two of them have gone down as some of the best characters in the history of film. I wouldn't say never, but we've rarely seen a bad guy like you again Al.
The edge goes to De Niro in this category for one role only, his turn as Jimmy in Goodfellas. Not only was it a great performance, but it had one thing that Pacino's gangster roles don't have, the sense of realism to what a gangster was. De Niro played the real deal here, nothing romantic about Jimmy Conway. On top of that, De Niro took a role that was immortalized by the great Marlon Brando and held his own. Who's your daddy Michael Corleone?
Memorable Quotes
-"I know it was you Fredo, you broke my heart."

-"SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!!"

-"Vanity..definitely my favorite sin."

-"ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!"

-"In this country, you gotta make the money first, then when you get the money, you get the power, then when you get the power, then you get the woman."

-"Whoo-ah."

-"You talkin to me? You talkin to me? Well I don't see nobody else standing here."

-"You throw a punch like you take it in the ass."

-"It doesn't take much strength to pull the trigger, but let's see him get up day after day and work for a living, let's see him try that. Then we'll see who's the real tough the guy, the working man's the tough guy, your fathers the tough guy."

-"Guy told me one time, never let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."

Performance
Al seemed to evolve throughout his career. In the days of The Godfather, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon he was often more soft spoken in his performances with brief glimpses of the Al he would become. Then came the operatic, larger than life Al Pacino. His loud monologues would appear in many of his films and often enhanced the moment i.e his speeches in Scent of a Woman and Devil's Advocate.
Four films define Robert De Niro's talent as an actor to me: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets, and Deer Hunter. If we are to compare these two actors on their ability alone, it would come out to a tie. These men have completely different styles and they both completely disappear into most of the roles they accept. You do what you do very well Bobby D.
Overall Career
Al Pacino has had an amazing career, and who knows if the studios had their way when he was first starting out if it would have ever happened. In later years, Pacino has had more misses than hits, but his talents have always shined through and he has made lackluster movies better with his presence. Some of the criticism that has come from Al often yelling most of his lands has never bothered me as much as others. Shouldn't come as a surprise Al's real love is the theater.
Pacino has had a couple memorable roles. Legendary roles if you will. De Niro has had quite a few. The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, Cape Fear, Taxi Driver, Godfather Part II, Casino, Heat, Goodfellas. The man ultimately was better at picking decent roles in decent films then was Pacino. Like Al, Bobby has made some duds in recent years, but it can't be denied he has the more impressive resume.
Robert De Niro
So there we have it, this weeks match was just as difficult if not more for me than last weeks. These two are in my Top 5 and have been for years. Neither one is more talented then the other, but ultimately the win has to go to Robert De Niro for the more impressive film career. What say you?

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which movie is your favourite?
POST YOUR CHOICE BELOW!
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+1
8:22PM on 08/13/2012
Al pacino is better actor than robert deniro.deniro did better films
Al pacino is better actor than robert deniro.deniro did better films
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11:03PM on 04/22/2012
Deniro wins if for no other reason than he has had the good sense to not appear in a shitty Adam Sandler comedy.
Deniro wins if for no other reason than he has had the good sense to not appear in a shitty Adam Sandler comedy.
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11:03PM on 04/22/2012
Deniro wins if for no other reason than he has had the good sense to not appear in a shitty Adam Sandler comedy.
Deniro wins if for no other reason than he has had the good sense to not appear in a shitty Adam Sandler comedy.
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+0
2:58PM on 04/20/2012
this is like an asshole dad admitting his favorite child.......whick i totally am.....DeNiro
this is like an asshole dad admitting his favorite child.......whick i totally am.....DeNiro
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9:30PM on 04/19/2012
I've always been a bigger fan of Pacino, but it's still hard to go wrong with Deniro.
I've always been a bigger fan of Pacino, but it's still hard to go wrong with Deniro.
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7:54PM on 04/19/2012
DeNiro, he's my all time fav actor and I think he is a better performer and actor. Pacino does amazing work but its only when he actually stretches himself. He doesn't disappear into roles as easily as DeNiro does.
DeNiro, he's my all time fav actor and I think he is a better performer and actor. Pacino does amazing work but its only when he actually stretches himself. He doesn't disappear into roles as easily as DeNiro does.
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+18
7:54PM on 04/19/2012
How dare you not include the "Because she got a GREAT ASS!" line? Blasphemy.
How dare you not include the "Because she got a GREAT ASS!" line? Blasphemy.
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-1
5:47PM on 04/19/2012
Definitely my top two actors of all time so great article. If I had to choose though, it would be De Niro. Both are obviously excellent, both picked great roles throughout their career but I think I'd pick just De Niro because he was the first actor to really wow me (Pacino being second). His effort on Raging Bull is staggering too, not just one of the best performances ever, but one of the most influential.
Definitely my top two actors of all time so great article. If I had to choose though, it would be De Niro. Both are obviously excellent, both picked great roles throughout their career but I think I'd pick just De Niro because he was the first actor to really wow me (Pacino being second). His effort on Raging Bull is staggering too, not just one of the best performances ever, but one of the most influential.
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+16
12:48PM on 04/19/2012
I was afraid this day would come.
I was afraid this day would come.
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12:47PM on 04/19/2012

It's "Hoo-ah" sir. "Hoo-ah"

But yeah, this is a really hard one. I've have to sit down with a panel of experts for a good week and a half before I came to a confident conclusion.
But yeah, this is a really hard one. I've have to sit down with a panel of experts for a good week and a half before I came to a confident conclusion.
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12:53PM on 04/19/2012
Hwoo Ah? Maybe? ::gathers panel of experts::
Hwoo Ah? Maybe? ::gathers panel of experts::
12:50PM on 04/19/2012
Then again...maybe he prenounces his W's weirdly.
Then again...maybe he prenounces his W's weirdly.
10:37AM on 04/19/2012
This might be the first Face Off I've agreed with.
This might be the first Face Off I've agreed with.
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+22
10:02AM on 04/19/2012

I like Bob better but

Best Gangster? Hell no! Seriously, if it were Pesci or Liotta's character in Goodfellas, I could actually maybe see that being CLOSE... but NOTHING beats Michael Corleone in terms of movie gangsters, no one.
Best Gangster? Hell no! Seriously, if it were Pesci or Liotta's character in Goodfellas, I could actually maybe see that being CLOSE... but NOTHING beats Michael Corleone in terms of movie gangsters, no one.
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+21
10:01AM on 04/19/2012
The whole concept of this is kind of fucked up but to say that DeNiro was the better gangster between the 2 is just dumb, Scarface and Carlito's way and even Donnie Brasco make him the obvious choice. Maybe if the question was phrased 'Best Mobster' I wouldn't argue, but you are wrong, Scarface is the most iconic gangster character in the world and history of film.


P.S. I like DeNiro more than Pacino.
The whole concept of this is kind of fucked up but to say that DeNiro was the better gangster between the 2 is just dumb, Scarface and Carlito's way and even Donnie Brasco make him the obvious choice. Maybe if the question was phrased 'Best Mobster' I wouldn't argue, but you are wrong, Scarface is the most iconic gangster character in the world and history of film.


P.S. I like DeNiro more than Pacino.
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+3
10:00AM on 04/19/2012

Would've been tough...

Had it not been for the Jack and Jill cameo by Pacino. Plus, Deniro likes baseball... at least he said so in Untouchables.
Had it not been for the Jack and Jill cameo by Pacino. Plus, Deniro likes baseball... at least he said so in Untouchables.
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+1
9:52AM on 04/19/2012

DeNiro

DeNiro inspires feeling for his characters like no other actor in history. He'll make you laugh (Midnight Run - Screw Meet the parents)cry, (when Tommy dies in Goodfellas), and get angry (Taxi Driver, Cape Fear, Raging Bull) with an intensity that no other can match. Pacino is a great actor, but does not inspire the range of emotion that DeNiro does.
DeNiro inspires feeling for his characters like no other actor in history. He'll make you laugh (Midnight Run - Screw Meet the parents)cry, (when Tommy dies in Goodfellas), and get angry (Taxi Driver, Cape Fear, Raging Bull) with an intensity that no other can match. Pacino is a great actor, but does not inspire the range of emotion that DeNiro does.
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9:51AM on 04/19/2012
For me, Heat will always be my favorite Robert De Niro film
For me, Heat will always be my favorite Robert De Niro film
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9:00AM on 04/19/2012
For over-the-top cartoonish, compare Scarface with Cape Fear. I still give DeNiro's Max Cady the props. How about DeNiro as Frankenstein compared to Pacino's Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy?
For over-the-top cartoonish, compare Scarface with Cape Fear. I still give DeNiro's Max Cady the props. How about DeNiro as Frankenstein compared to Pacino's Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy?
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8:59AM on 04/19/2012
For over-the-top cartoonish, compare Scarface with Cape Fear. I still give DeNiro's Max Cady the props. How about DeNiro as Frankenstein compared to Pacino's Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy?
For over-the-top cartoonish, compare Scarface with Cape Fear. I still give DeNiro's Max Cady the props. How about DeNiro as Frankenstein compared to Pacino's Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy?
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8:55AM on 04/19/2012
I'm going to agree. They are both awesome iconic actors. But I give the slight edge to Robert DeNiro. So many great performances. How about the Deer Hunter? Great film and DeNiro was great. A good comparison is Jimmy Conway vs Scarface. Pacino's Scarface was good but almost cartoonish. Jimmy Conway was realistic as hell.
I'm going to agree. They are both awesome iconic actors. But I give the slight edge to Robert DeNiro. So many great performances. How about the Deer Hunter? Great film and DeNiro was great. A good comparison is Jimmy Conway vs Scarface. Pacino's Scarface was good but almost cartoonish. Jimmy Conway was realistic as hell.
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+15
8:41AM on 04/19/2012
I've always been a Pacino man, even though I would tend to agree De Niro was better at picking roles...

...That all changed in the aftermath of "Meet the Parents." While De Niro has only gotten worse, Pacino has had a handful of memorable roles in "Insomnia," "The Merchant of Venice," and especially with "you Don't Know Jack," not only one of his best performances lately, but one of his best performances EVER.
I've always been a Pacino man, even though I would tend to agree De Niro was better at picking roles...

...That all changed in the aftermath of "Meet the Parents." While De Niro has only gotten worse, Pacino has had a handful of memorable roles in "Insomnia," "The Merchant of Venice," and especially with "you Don't Know Jack," not only one of his best performances lately, but one of his best performances EVER.
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8:38AM on 04/19/2012
I completely agree with the outcome. De Niro is my favorite actor of all-time. However, Pacino is responsible for my single favorite performance ever. Which is Michael Corleone in Godfather Part II.
I completely agree with the outcome. De Niro is my favorite actor of all-time. However, Pacino is responsible for my single favorite performance ever. Which is Michael Corleone in Godfather Part II.
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8:35AM on 04/19/2012

Pa

cino edges it for me, but so many amazing films have been made or massively enhanced by these two's performances, it's a tough debate. Having them face off in Heat was pretty damn amazing.
cino edges it for me, but so many amazing films have been made or massively enhanced by these two's performances, it's a tough debate. Having them face off in Heat was pretty damn amazing.
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8:05AM on 04/19/2012

Pacino.

If only because of one of my most favorite film: Scent of a Woman.

And maybe both of them had a dry run post millennium, but Pacino has done some AMAZING work in television, winning both Emmy & Globe for You Don't Know Jack and Angels In America....All De Niro did is ruining Meet the Parents and a handful of supporting roles in some other forgettable films. Pacino also has Insomnia, Ocean's Thirteen & The Recruit, too.
If only because of one of my most favorite film: Scent of a Woman.

And maybe both of them had a dry run post millennium, but Pacino has done some AMAZING work in television, winning both Emmy & Globe for You Don't Know Jack and Angels In America....All De Niro did is ruining Meet the Parents and a handful of supporting roles in some other forgettable films. Pacino also has Insomnia, Ocean's Thirteen & The Recruit, too.
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7:48AM on 04/19/2012

Great face off!

They are both winners in my book. There are not many actors who have a resume as impressive as either Pacino or DeNiro.
They are both winners in my book. There are not many actors who have a resume as impressive as either Pacino or DeNiro.
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8:59AM on 04/19/2012
This may be the best face off of all time.
This may be the best face off of all time.
+9
7:14AM on 04/19/2012
Pacino. His recent work may have had a few duds, but he's still taking his work seriously. DeNiro has turned into a joke or parody of himself.
Pacino. His recent work may have had a few duds, but he's still taking his work seriously. DeNiro has turned into a joke or parody of himself.
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4:12AM on 04/19/2012
Pacino- He's anchored more classic films, whereas DeNiro has had way more supporting roles or starred in ensembles and as important as supporting/ensembles are, you can't deny what Pacino has done almost single-handedly.
Pacino- He's anchored more classic films, whereas DeNiro has had way more supporting roles or starred in ensembles and as important as supporting/ensembles are, you can't deny what Pacino has done almost single-handedly.
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3:25AM on 04/19/2012

great match-up

i take De Niro as well. Travis Bickle is my favorite out of a lot of amazing characters from these 2
i take De Niro as well. Travis Bickle is my favorite out of a lot of amazing characters from these 2
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2:15AM on 04/19/2012
This scene ends the debate right here.

[link]
This scene ends the debate right here.

[link]
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1:59AM on 04/19/2012
Neither actor has had a legitimately good bit of acting in this current millenium...but their body of work from the 70s through the late 90s is just stunning. And yeah, De Niro takes it. Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Godfather II, Heat, Jackie Brown, King of Comedy, Cape Fear, The motherfuckin Untouchables, The Deer Hunter...unbelievable career up until Rocky & Bullwinkle.
Neither actor has had a legitimately good bit of acting in this current millenium...but their body of work from the 70s through the late 90s is just stunning. And yeah, De Niro takes it. Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Godfather II, Heat, Jackie Brown, King of Comedy, Cape Fear, The motherfuckin Untouchables, The Deer Hunter...unbelievable career up until Rocky & Bullwinkle.
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3:39AM on 04/19/2012
Neither one has had a legitimately good bit of acting in this current millennium? Really? I take it you haven't seen Pacino in Insomnia, Angels in America, or You Don't Know Jack.
Neither one has had a legitimately good bit of acting in this current millennium? Really? I take it you haven't seen Pacino in Insomnia, Angels in America, or You Don't Know Jack.
1:59AM on 04/19/2012

Al Pacino--the end.

The Godfather 1&2, The Insider, Serpico,...And Justice For All,Dog Day Afternoon, Scent Of A Woman, Dick Tracy, Glengarry Glen Ross, Donnie Brasco, The Devil's Advocate, The Merchant Of Venice, Looking For Richard, Angels Of America, You Don't Know Jack, City Hall, Scarface, Sea Of Love--the power Al holds over the screen is something otherwordly in all of his great performances that sets acting standards.

De Niro is awesome but Pacino is a legend.
The Godfather 1&2, The Insider, Serpico,...And Justice For All,Dog Day Afternoon, Scent Of A Woman, Dick Tracy, Glengarry Glen Ross, Donnie Brasco, The Devil's Advocate, The Merchant Of Venice, Looking For Richard, Angels Of America, You Don't Know Jack, City Hall, Scarface, Sea Of Love--the power Al holds over the screen is something otherwordly in all of his great performances that sets acting standards.

De Niro is awesome but Pacino is a legend.
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+13
1:58AM on 04/19/2012
This is very tough. I like both actors. But if I have to choose, it has to be Al Pacino. I like him a lot from "Serpico", "Scent of a Woman" and "Heat". Especially "Scene of a Woman", he really nailed the role of Lt. Col. Slade.
This is very tough. I like both actors. But if I have to choose, it has to be Al Pacino. I like him a lot from "Serpico", "Scent of a Woman" and "Heat". Especially "Scene of a Woman", he really nailed the role of Lt. Col. Slade.
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