So it's good news that he's adding yet another to his rogues gallery, with the news that he's joining the cast of 'Gotti: Three Generations.' In the John Gotti biopic, which will star John Travolta as the Dapper Don, Pacino will play real-life Gambino crime family underboss Neil Dellacroce.
It might be a stretch for the diminutive actor to play a gangster who was known as "The Tall Guy," but Pacino has played six memorable mobsters in his career, all of them unique, none of them a clone of his Michael Corleone or Tony Montana. That will certainly give him the presence, authority and experience to play Dellacroce, who was Gotti's mentor in the 1970s (though he sided against his protege and in favor of Paul Castellano when the latter crossed Gotti by forbidding drug dealing in their crime syndicate). Here's a look at the rich criminal history, role by role, that Pacino will bring to bear when he plays "Father O'Neil."
•Michael Corleone ('The Godfather,' 1972; 'The Godfather Part II,' 1974; 'The Godfather Part III,' 1990). Not just the granddaddy of all Pacino mobsters, but of all modern-day movie and TV mobsters. Cerebral, ice-cool, he's capable of both flashes of lethal violence and of self-delusion, thinking he can eventually wash the blood from his hands and make the Corleone family legit. Once the immigrant clan's greatest hope for assimilation into America's corridors of power, Michael is a success in the family business, but only at the expense of the family itself.
When he played Michael in the first 'Godfather,' Pacino was an unknown, and he used that blank-slate quality to play Michael's true cards close to the vest; you would never guess that this clean-cut young man playing the college boy/war hero was going to turn out to be the family's most ruthless leader, much less the star of a three-movie saga. By the second film, Pacino's Michael is showing a capacity for sudden, white-hot rage at each betrayal (a scary quality of Pacino's that he's used in many a role since). And in the third, his hangdog face shows the defeatism of age, the realization that, no matter how hard and how often he tries, there will be no escape, no redemption.
•Tony Montana ('Scarface,' 1983). Pacino's other iconic gangster role is also his most gloriously over-the-top performance (and with Pacino, that's saying a lot). As the Cuban exile in Miami who climbs to the top of a mountain of cocaine, only to fall victim to his own hubris, Pacino is fearsome, charismatic, profane, brutal, unfettered, paranoid, exuberant, deluded, and utterly committed. He's also hilarious, from his mangled Cuban accent to his endlessly quotable dialogue (written by Oliver Stone).
Brian De Palma's operatic remake of the 1932 gangster classic seemed a weird misfire at the time, but it became a landmark after gangsta rappers decided that Pacino's Tony - with his braggadocio, his aphorisms, his opulent taste, and his live-fast-die-young-grab-all-you-can-along-the-way philosophy - was a role model. For all the humor in his performance, Pacino played this pulpy, trashy antihero with total seriousness, as someone to be reckoned with. It just took a while for everyone else to catch up.
•Big Boy Caprice ('Dick Tracy,' 1990). By the time this comic-strip adaptation came out, Pacino's gangster roles were canonical enough for him to parody. Unrecognizable under face-distorting prosthetics, Pacino let his familiar bellow do all the work as a crime kingpin who's the yellow-jacketed detective's chief nemesis. An angry blowhard, he's not even the scariest villain in the movie, just the loudest of the gaggle of grotesques Tracy pursues. Pacino knows he's playing a cartoon, and while the actor's transformation into someone else is colorful, thorough and complete, it's still as flat and two-dimensional as a comic-strip panel.
•Carlito Brigante ('Carlito's Way,' 1993). If Tony Montana, sometime during his rise, had been sent up the river, had time in prison to think, and had been paroled, he might have been something like Carlito, the Puerto Rican ex-drug dealer Pacino plays in this reunion with 'Scarface' director De Palma. Carlito is wise enough to want to go straight, but like Michael Corleone in 'Godfather Part III,' they keep pulling him back in. If loyalty is a necessity to Michael and Tony, it's the undoing of Carlito, who sticks by feckless friends for far too long. Pacino reveals how his Carlito is an older, wiser version of someone who once was a young hothead; if this were a western, he'd be the retired gunslinger who is forced to test his reflexes again after a nonstop barrage of challenges from every young punk who'd like a chance to draw against a legend.
•Lefty Ruggiero ('Donnie Brasco,' 1997). The most pathetic and poignant of Pacino's gangsters, Lefty is a veteran wiseguy who shows newcomer Donnie (Johnny Depp) the ropes. Like Carlito, he's undone by misplaced loyalty, since Donnie is actually an undercover Fed named Joe Pistone. But his loyalty in the syndicate also seems misplaced, since he has so little to show for his decades of unquestioning service. He still lives a shabby life, in a tiny apartment, while other mobsters leapfrog him as they rise in the ranks. The one bright spot in his life is the opportunity to pass his wisdom on to the eager Donnie. Pacino thoroughly captures the pathos of Lefty's misspent life in his stooped carriage, droopy eyes, even the way he wears his little hat. The only real-life gangster Pacino has played to date, the fatherly Lefty should be a good model for Pacino's performance as John Gotti's mentor.
•Starkman ('Gigli,' 2003). Pacino was one of the few people associated with this legendary flop who walked away with his career untarnished. Maybe it's because Starkman was little more than a glorified walk-on, an apparent favor to director Martin Brest, who won Pacino his only Oscar to date for 'Scent of a Woman.' Or maybe it's that, by this point, Pacino's gangster cred was so secure that all he had to do was show up. He's certainly menacing as Starkman, a mob boss who shows up primarily to unleash his wrath and put the fear of God into underlings Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, who have screwed up badly. It's the sort of thing Pacino could have done in his sleep. Perhaps he did.
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.