Robert De Niro vs. Al Pacino
This week, acting legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino square off in the cop thriller Righteous Kill. It's the third time they've shared a credit, although in The Godfather Part II they were never on screen at the same time (De Niro played Don Vito, Michael's father, in flashbacks), and in Heat, their characters only met once, in the famous coffeeshop scene.
Sadly, Righteous Kill is no Heat. Not by a long chalk. They play veteran NYPD homicide detectives, Turk and Rooster, devoted partners whose trust is undermined when the evidence suggests the serial killer they're after may be a psychopathic vigilante cop.
They may be slumming, but at least this gives us an excuse to consider the extraordinary careers of two powerhouse acting talents, born just three years apart in New York City. They were propelled to stardom as they reached their 30s through the impact of The Godfather and (in De Niro's case) The Godfather Part II and became key players in the Hollywood Renaissance of the 1970s. In the period 1972 to 1980 they racked up nine Oscar nominations between them (surprisingly, they only have one Best Actor win apiece).
Of the two, Pacino is the more theatrical actor, an exhibitionist who struts and frets and revels in the power of his voice (he loves to shout!). Unlike De Niro, he's also appeared regularly on stage, performing the works of Shakespeare, David Mamet and Brecht to great acclaim.
De Niro, on the other hand, has proved more versatile, capable of playing braggarts and showboats, psychopaths, charismatic loners, and grey introverts. Although many critics would say his acting peaked with his portrait of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (a role involving a complete physical transformation), De Niro evidently sensed the direction Hollywood was heading in the more conservative Reagan era, and established himself as a commercial leading man in mainstream films.
As a result, he's made more than 70 movies, nearly twice as many as Pacino. If many of them have been forgettable at least this career has allowed him to range freely into comedy, horror, romance, and even children's films, as well as the dramatic and suspense roles for which both are best known.
It may be that we've seen the best of these great talents, but they can still raise their game when they're inspired to do so (who knew De Niro could direct a film of the ambition and complexity of The Good Shepherd?). De Niro hopes to make another movie with Michael Mann next year, and Pacino is playing Salvador Dali for writer-director Andrew Niccol, a project that could bring out the best – and the worst – in this formidable talent.
Clash of the Titans
Al PacinoBorn: 25 April, 1940, New York, New York
Height: 5’7 (in high heels)
Heritage: Italian American
Robert DeniroBorn: 17 August, 1943, New York, New York
Heritage: Italian, Irish, French German, Dutch-American
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