Will Speare continues his overview of the Pacino/De Niro argument…
By 1975 Al Pacino had already made two career-defining movies in career-defining roles, and blessed as he was, he continued to excel. Next up was Dog Day Afternoon, which was another Oscar winning film directed by the wonderful Sidney Lumet. Al plays hapless Sonny Wortzik, a bank robber whose exploits turn to farce and media circus. Here, as in both Godfather films, he is supported by the amazing John Cazale, who stars as Sal.
The gift that Pacino has, and what differs him from De Niro perhaps, is that we are always aware that we are watching Pacino, De Niro being far more chameloen like. This, although on the surface another crime flick, is a million miles away from Michael Corleone.
Ok, so it maybe a great actor’s skill to be unrecognizable in every role but with acting chops like these that is always going to be difficult. Pacino’s ability to bring his own person and project that into the character is what elevates him from other mere actors. This is not always the case. He has that immersive and disguiging abilty like De Niro too. See films like Panic In Needle Park, Dick Tracy or TV serial Angels in America to see what I mean.
A few other decent but not really stand out roles followed for the remainder of the 1970s but in 1979 Pacino received an Oscar nomination for his characterisation in the excellent court room thirller And Justice For All. Ethical and moral issues met head on in possibly the best court-based movie since 12 Angry Men (1957).
Meanwhile the always-working De Niro went from Oscar glory to the most infamous and recognisable role of his career thus far. And the most quoted, too. Travis Bickle in the deeply dark and disturbing Taxi Driver. Anyone who considers themselves a movie buff or fan of De Niro and hasn’t seen this epic tour de force, shame on you. THE post Vietnam disorder movie is a study in humanity slipping away, society changing and possible redemption.
In 1977 De Niro starred in long time collaberator Martin Scorsese´s musical New York, New York with Liza Minelli. He plays sax player Jimmy Doyle. I´m no musical fan, nor in any way, shape or form a fan of Minelli, but De Niro is captavating to watch and keeps you in your seat. The highlight of a decent but not great flick.
Closing off the decade De Niro starred and excelled in the intense yet amazing The Deer Hunter. A story of friendship and lives ripped apart by the brutality and lasting effects of war and the struggle to bring back a semblance of normality and pre-war cameraderie and the fulfilling of a promise. Best picture winner in 1979 but perhaps the greatest of De Niro´s roles unrewarded by the academy.
Result – Still no Oscar for Al and De Niro has the greater body of work in the period.
Winner – Robert De Niro
Still to come: the 80s – Raging Bull and The King of Comedy vs. Scarface.