Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. are two iconic names that have been synonymous with American cinema since their establishment as actors in the 1970s. There are over 150 movies between their two filmographies and Robert de Niro has worked twice the amount of feature films, approximately a whopping 102 films, with Al Pacino at roughly 54 feature credits to his name. Those who are avid fans of Al Pacino know that he is a stage actor in theatre in addition to working in films. He’s worked on over 20 plays. The two have worked on three films together. Most famously on Francis Coppola’s The Godfather Part II in an epic timeline of present-day Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and a flashback to his father, young Vito Corleone (Robert de Niro). Though they never shared any screen time, this is hands down their most iconic film together considering their prime age of 31 for De Niro and 34 for Pacino. Those are the prime years when a man looks his greatest, and these two blessed the world of cinema with their bold stage presence and fine acting. Perhaps, we have Francis Coppola to thank for this, for casting these two legends and maybe even thank Brian de Palma for his earlier work with De Niro on Hi, Mom and Greetings as well as Sidney Lumet’s work with Pacino on Serpico
Pacino and De Niro got together early in their careers and shared commonalities that were rare among two up and coming actors in their twenties. Considering they were of the similar age group and ethnicity, there was never a competitive rivalry, but always the inevitable audition for the same roles. Alfredo ‘Al’ James Pacino is from the Bronx borough of New York City and is the son of two Italian/American parents while Robert ‘Bob’ Anthony De Niro Jr. was born in the Manhattan borough with Irish/Italian descent on his father’s side and his mother had ancestries of Dutch, French and German. What’s unique about these two icons is their friendship that’s spanned over five decades. Their public perception based upon their history of acting roles has painted them as tough guys with intimidating traits, but those who have been up close and personal with them have stated that they are in fact the opposite; charming, good-humored and good-natured personalities.
In Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), they portray powerful characters on opposite sides of the law. Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Pacino) doesn’t cross paths with professional thief Neil McCauley (DeNiro) until the middle of the second act, where the two sit down across from one another “like a couple of regular fellas.” Their dialogue written by Michael Mann in this scene is outstanding and noteworthy. In the film’s climax, the two holding hands after a gun fight with Moby’s God Moving Over the Face of the Waters on the soundtrack is one of the most remarkable moments in film history. Heat is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Jon Avnet’s Righteous Kill (2008) was truly a pleasure to sit down and watch. Both Rooster (Pacino) and Turk (De Niro) share almost every scene together as two veteran New York City Detectives attempting to solve mysterious crimes that keep occurring. After the making of the film, though they’ve never mentioned anything negative about it, it was alluded to how they wish to work together again on something near future that they’ll both be proud of. As if The Godfather Part II and Heat wasn’t enough, these two icons are more than just the greatest actors; they’re the greatest of friends. How else could an acting duo strive to outdo their previous masterpieces? Perhaps, because they enjoy working together. Righteous Kill was a visual gratification by fulfilling the desires of audiences to see them next to each other while on the same side of the law, but aesthetically it felt like a long episode of Law & Order or CSI on television. Though it didn’t please audiences on an artistic and thematic level, it’s the most pleasurable film to watch of the four, in terms of the screen time they share together.
Which leads us to their most recent collaboration on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019) as emotional performances are given about Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the President of the Teamsters Union and his friendship with Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a mob hitman. What occurs in the themes surrounding these characters is reminiscent of the real lives of the film’s actors and its director. Pacino, De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Martin Scorsese have had solid friendships since the 1970s. The Irishman is also about the self-reflection and introspection that comes with the wisdom of looking back at a long life, the same way the actors and the film’s director are doing with their own lives.
Prior to The Irishman, Al Pacino has worked on a number of films portraying characters written in scripts that serve the purpose of thematic material like Hangman, The Humbling, Manglehorn and Danny Collins. In many of his interviews, Al Pacino has admitted that he went broke in the 1980s and it was out of instinct that he stopped acting for a few years. After Brian De Palma’s Scarface in 1983, he would work on Hugh Hudson’s Revolution in 1985 and then Harold Becker’s Sea of Love in 1989. He’s admitted that he decided to refrain from working for a few years and that he only went back to work in the late 1980s out of a financial necessity. In an interview with Gentleman’s Quarterly, “I was a little concerned about what was going on in my life. There was a contrast to what I was and what I had so recently become. I was having a difficult time. I think I was afraid of it for whatever reason.” Al Pacino goes on to explain that his years of absence in feature films provided him comfort that he was becoming obscure and that he was inebriated and confused throughout the several years he took off from acting work.
For Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, the 1970s were paved by Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and James Dean. There was a New Hollywood emerging that paved the path for the New York New Wave movement of thriving filmmakers like Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico), Brian De Palma (Hi, Mom, Greetings) Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver) and of course Francis Coppola with The Godfather Part I and Part II. The American Cinema of the 1970s was completely unalike the cinema of the decade prior. These new directors were film school students who studied the work of the Italian Neorealist movement in Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, as well as the French New Wave with filmmakers like Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffuat, ushering in a new independent style of filmmaking in America with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro as the main faces of the movement.
Sporadic throughout their filmographies one may notice that both Pacino and DeNiro worked on very odd films that didn’t match their great films of past. Especially Robert De Niro, who has worked on a stunning amount of films totalling approximately at 104, more or less.Films like Stardust, Red Lights, The Bagman, Heist are all indistinct and shadowy. De Niro’s fans may or may not assume the real reason behind it, but it’s always refreshing to see the man himself admit the reasons why. “It’s just financial. You do something and you get paid well. You don’t always have the luxury of working in a situation like with Marty or David O. Russell or Francis Coppola or Barry Levinson.” De Niro said. In the same interview with Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Al Pacino added, “Sometimes they offer you money to do something that’s not adequate. And you talk yourself into it. And somewhere within you, you know that this thing is gonna be a lemon.” The films De Niro was referring to were David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog (written by David Mamet) which were two gems of acting performances.
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have been nominated for a total of 18 Academy Awards in Acting, winning a total of 3. Al Pacino for Martin Brest’s Scent of A woman (1993) and Robert De Niro for the Godfather Part II (1974) and Raging Bull (1980). It’s interesting to note that Robert De Niro did not attend the Academy Awards ceremony in 1975 for his win due to him being away in Italy working on Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900. They both rocked the world in the seventies with their acting performances, and it’s worth mentioning that Al Pacino was nominated 4 consecutive times for acting in the 1970s. Their careers have endured remarkably in 5 decades because they’re passionate about their work. They’ve shown that the power of desire is greater than any talent or skills developed.
Even though they have been life-long friends without any rivalries, it’s still amusing to propose the question: Who’s your favorite, Robert De Niro or Al Pacino? You can only pick one. I lean toward the latter.