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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...

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