Are you ready to see Robert De Niro and Al Pacino as partners in Righteous Kill? Is it the casting pair-up you've been waiting 35 years for? Or does it feel too strange to watch a whole movie in which they're all buddy buddy? Perhaps you were fully satisfied with their showdown as enemies in Heat, even though the esteemed veteran actors had much less screen time together. Personally, I like the idea of them going head to head better, but that's mainly because they're both such huge figures that having them team up seems a bit unfair to the other side. As enemies they're like the Incredible Hulk and the Abomination or Iron Man and Iron Monger, to compare them with recent superpowered showdowns in cinema.
It's difficult to choose the better actor of the two, or even decide who's been the more successful Hollywood player. De Niro's been in a lot more films, but his ratio of bad films to good might have suffered as a result. Meanwhile, they've both arguably become too much of caricatures of themselves, to the point where it's sometimes hard to tell which performances are intentional self-parodies and which are accidental. However, despite the difficulty of pitting De Niro against Pacino for a general comparative showdown, there are a number of easily corresponding roles among them. So, just for fun, I've come up with seven specific character showdowns, chosen my pick for which is the better performance, and invite you all to vote on your favorite, whether you agree or disagree with my own.
After the jump ... De Niro vs. Pacino -- it's on!
Best Actor Oscar-Winning Role: Jake La Motta vs. Frank Slade
It's hard to believe that of all their combined Oscar nominations (6 for De Niro; 8 for Pacino), these two actors have never gone up against each other in any category. They were each nominated for acting Oscars in both 1975 and 1991, but in both situations one actor was up for Best Actor while the other was up for Best Supporting Actor. Maybe it's for the best that they've never faced each other; Academy voters might explode at the thought of having to choose between them, regardless of the actual performances (as if Academy members actually voted on the specific performance in all circumstances). Still, as unfair and unnecessary as it is, it's almost too easy picking out the better of their respective Best Actor-winning roles. Few disagree with the idea that Pacino's win for Scent of a Woman was more of a career-honoring situation. De Niro's win for Raging Bull, on the other hand was a much-deserved reward for a career-defining achievement. My choice: Jake La Motta
Corleone: Young Vito Corleone vs. Michael Corleone
Well, considering De Niro won a supporting actor Oscar for playing the young Vito in The Godfather Part II, while Pacino was only nominated (twice, though) for playing Michael, it would seem that he should win another showdown. But even with Pacino's saturation of his character over the whole trilogy -- lifting his portrayal a little too over the top by The Godfather Part III -- he was required to do more, and I think he achieved more, throughout the course of the series. My choice: Michael Corleone
Comedic Mob Boss: Paul Vitti vs. Starkman
Ugh. This is a showdown I'd rather just shrug off and consider them both losers. But, I have to admit that I hate Analyze This and its sequel, Analyze That, far more than I hate Gigli, regardless of how much worse the latter film may indeed be. Maybe it's the universal disdain for Gigli that makes the defender in me want to give it some sort of favorable recognition, or maybe its just that by the time Al Pacino shows up in the film with his usual ham-job shouting, his miniscule spark is relatively appreciable. In either event, I go with Pacino here. My choice: Starkman
Cartoon Villain: Fearless Leader vs. Big Boy Caprice
This is a little unfair. I actually love Dick Tracy so much that I still wear the t-shirt I bought from Epcot Center the summer it came out (well, one of them, anyway; I actually bought three different kinds). Plus, although both performances exhibit some level of self-parody, Pacino's is terrifically executed, while De Niro's, in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, is terribly embarrassing. My Choice: Big Boy Caprice
Supernatural Villain: Frankenstein's Monster (aka The Creature) vs. Satan (aka John Milton)
I'll always think it was a mistake to cast De Niro as The Creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, so even though by the end of The Devil's Advocate I want to personally, physically shut Pacino up, he wins another round. My Choice: Satan (John Milton)
Original Psychopaths: Travis Bickle vs. Sonny Wortzik
I can't lie, I do prefer watching Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon to watching De Niro in Taxi Driver. I think it's the 30 years of pop culture ruining Travis Bickle with countless imitations, whether as homage or spoof, that makes this so. However, as exaggerated as I sometimes think it may be (is it really, or does it only seem that way in retrospect?), I truly believe De Niro's performance is stronger than Pacino's. My Choice: Travis Bickle
Remake Psychopaths: Max Cady vs. Tony Montana
More subjective reasoning, here, but then that's why I'm also letting you vote. I never was a big fan of DePalma's Scarface update, and similar to the case with De Niro's Bickle -- though more so -- my appreciation for Pacino's performance is marred by too many impersonations. I guarantee that the people choose differently than I do here, but due to the fact that I find Cady more frightening than Montana, I'm going with De Niro once again for his performance in Scorsese's Cape Fear remake. My Choice: Max Cady