I don't know about you, but I was exceedingly pissed off at the blown opportunity that was "Righteous Kill" (2008). Here you have two of our finest screen actors late in their careers who, in their respective forty year runs, have only appeared in two films together ("The Godfather, Part II" and "Heat"). In those films, we find a grand total of one scene where they actually exchange dialogue (the coffee shop scene in "Heat"). For me, that is one transcendent moment when watching how these masters play off each other supersedes what their characters are actually saying.
If their one shared sequence in "Heat" was a tantalizing taste of what could be, "Righteous Kill" was supposed to be the feast we'd all been waiting for. Instead, most everyone got an upset stomach watching the aging stars do their level best to animate an astoundingly formulaic, hackneyed script. "Righteous Kill" is a cautionary reminder of one fundamental truth in film: no amount of acting technique can save a poorly written and constructed movie.
These gentlemen- and their public- deserve better. You need only look at their individual legacies to know that. Over the years, Pacino has received eight Academy Award nominations, and won once; De Niro has won twice (once for supporting actor), with six total nominations.
Why do we want to see them together? The fundamental reason, I believe, is that they have so much in common it seems odd they haven't collaborated more. Where to begin?
First, they are close in age (Pacino is just three years older); second, they are both New York City natives; third, they are both of Italian descent; fourth, they were among the first ethnic Hollywood stars (with Dustin Hoffman leading the way); fifth, they both became famous within two years of each other; and sixth, they were both launched by young directors, also of Italian heritage, with whom each actor would be long associated (Coppola with Pacino, Scorsese with De Niro).
They also have contrasting traits that could be complementary on-screen, given the right vehicle. Notwithstanding his portrayal of Michael Corleone, Pacino is the more external actor, the charming, fast-talking sprite, while De Niro's persona is more internal and harder-to-read: the contained tough guy. Pacino is more the natural hero- or anti-hero, while De Niro has made his name playing mostly troubled, unsympathetic characters.
It's clear to me they could be terrific together. Now help me prove it, Hollywood.
Of course, they haven't done too badly apart either. On my site you'll find thirteen titles for Pacino and sixteen for De Niro, but you should still consider this a virtual tie, since many will dispute my omission of Pacino's signature role in "Scarface" (1983). I found its campy excess entertaining but, in the end, overdone. (Stick with the original 1932 version). For that matter, I also passed on "The Scent Of A Woman" (1992), Al's only Oscar, which featured a breathtaking lead performance in what I thought to be a good, not great, film. (Ever wonder why we don't see much of Chris O'Donnell anymore?)
Ultimately, it's tough to call just who is the finer actor, or bigger star. Personally, I give the edge to De Niro, who got first billing on "Kill" (though I'm sure he'd like to take it back). Part of this is due to Pacino's career slump in the late seventies, and for much of the eighties.
I'd love to hear the perspectives of readers on how these two top actors measure up, and which man should get the Lifetime Achievement Oscar first. To aid this assessment, I've listed my own favorite titles for each actor below. To read the specific write-ups themselves, visit www.bestmoviesbyfarr.com.
Al's All-Time List
The Panic In Needle Park '71
The Godfather '72
The Godfather, Part 2 '74
Dog Day Afternoon '75
Sea Of Love '89
Glengarry, Glen Ross '92
Carlito's Way '93
Donnie Brasco '97
The Insider '99
Angels In America '03
Bang The Drum Slowly '73
Mean Streets '73
The Godfather, Part 2 '74
Taxi Driver '76
The Deer Hunter '78
Raging Bull '80
King Of Comedy '82
Once Upon A Time In America '84
The Untouchables '87
Midnight Run '88
This Boy's Life '93
A Bronx Tale '93
Jackie Brown '97
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