De Niro Vs. Pacino IV: To the Present

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In 1995, film fans around the world were treated to these two acting behemoths not only sharing billing again for the first time since The Godfather Part II but finally and for the first time the two were to share screen time, but before that Pacino starred in Warren Beatty’s underrated comic book adaptation, the hugely entertaining and lively Dick Tracy, as part of an excellent all-star cast. In this year he also completed the third chapter of The Godfather trilogy. This film fared less well than its almost flawless prequels but, although more politically themed, this final chapter of the mobster family’s tale is still excellent and wonderfully acted. See the “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” scene, or the jaw dropping operatic climax to really see Pacino’s acting in full top level flow.

Frankie and Johnny in ’91 was a better than nice film but, and as is often the case, when great dramatic actors, especially these two, try their hand in a different, more light-hearted genre, no matter the results, cinema goers don’t respond in numbers.

1992 proved a memorable year. “Death of a fucking salesman” was what cast members christened David Mamet fare GlenGarry Glen Ross on screen. Another amazing cast, another incredible film. Following this success Pacino finally secured Oscar recognition with Scent of a Woman. Far from his greatest film but still an amazing performance as Lt. Col. Frank Slade, the old adage of playing someone with disability (and so convincingly) bagged Al the golden statuette. The year finished off with the filming of the brilliant Carlito’s Way. As I said previously, for one reason or another, Scarface is not a film I hold as dear as many but this movie is the film I wanted Scarface to be more like. It is awesome.

De Niro caught fire in the 1990s with perhaps Scorsese’s greatest film Goodfellas. If Godfather is the ultimate Mafia film, Goodfellas is the best mobster film (it’s not about the bosses and the network, but about a few key individuals). A smaller part in Ron Howard’s Backdraft in 1991 deserves a mention, and a Cape Fear remake was impressive although ultimately the film was not a vast improvement on the original. This Boy’s Life (which showed the excellent talents of a young Leonardo Di Caprio – the future De Niro in the making?) and A Bronx Tale were both terrific outings too.

Casino in 1995 was also a great gangster flick but the fact it was dubbed “Goodfellas in Vegas” ultimately sums up what you will see. Terrific film but perhaps nothing groundbreaking. This brings us to Michael Mann’s Heat.

A short scene over a table in a coffee shop sees these two legends finally duke it out on screen. The scene itself, because it is much heralded, encapsulates and heightens a good film but because of the protagonists it perhaps even elevates it.

Following this, their respective careers begin to wind down.

Both were still able to choose and perform brilliantly, but more rarely, and still maintained heavy workloads. This means that between real classics such as Sleepers, Copland, Jackie Brown, Ronin in De Niro’s case or Donnie Brasco, The Devil’s Advocate, The Insider, Insomnia or The Merchant of Venice for Pacino, there remains far more tosh like Gigli, S1m0ne, Grudge Match and Hide and Seek.

Maybe the films are not the greatest but the performances can still be second to none.

2008 saw an attempt to reunite the two and cash in on the successes of both them and Heat, but Righteous Kill was an aberration for both the actors and storytelling generally.

Conclusion – After two lifetime careers that are unlikely to be matched, both remain the epitome of western movie acting, and have resumes, awards and testimonies coming out of their ears. From the 90s to today, Pacino has had the greater breadth of work thus squaring the series and ultimately and fairly I think it remains a tie. We may have our favorites and roles are comparable but these two are certainly the greatest.

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