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Movie Topic: PACINO VERSUS DENIRO

Why are Pacino's contributions more impressive than De Niro's?

1. THE STAGE

Pacino, even to this day, eats, sleeps and breathes acting. It's all that he knows. He began in the theatre and still goes back and performs for scale once or twice a year.

An interesting anecdote that speaks to how extensive theatrical experience aided Pacino from a career standpoint takes place in the late sixties. He was discovered by budding producer Martin Bregman in a New York production of "Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?". Bregman began an allegiance with him on the spot, prowling for the right property that would make his new client a star. That initial project turned out to be "Panic in Needle Park", a bleak story of homeless heroin addicts directed by Jerry Shatzberg. Producer Dominic Dunne (a prolific writer and monthly contributor for Vanity Fair) was torn between casting two new up and coming actors for the lead role. Upon deciding upon Pacino, the rival candidate got down on his knees and begged Dunne for more careful consideration. Who was the other actor? Robert De Niro.

I share this anecdote not to slight De Niro, who I believe belongs right near the top of the list of our all-time finest actors. Everyone has a path and De Niro would find success in his own way and accomplish extraordinary things. Instead, I wish to shed light on an obvious contrast in philosophies.

Pacino learned most of his important lessons in the theatre. He was rabid for the stage. And he continues to work in the theatre when he needs to recharge his batteries. It's alive; the ultimate high wire for an actor. And it provided him with invaluable tools. De Niro dabbled in theatre during his pre-film career and has yet to return.

There's an inherent vitality present in the stage experience. It requires a constant awareness and a constant involvement of your audience. It demands a connection to those with whom you perform -- a give and take that raises your game. In short, it requires real energy and work. Laziness is not an option.

The stage has allowed Pacino to retune his instincts throughout his successful film career. It has provided him with the charge you can only get from a live audience. This is something you can sense in all of his performances, no matter how mixed the end results might be. He never acts in a bubble. I'm not certain the same thing could be said for De Niro.

2. THE PASSION

It's all about the passion. I have no doubts that De Niro has always had it. But his work has often been soft and nondistinct; the passion he puts into role preparation is too often the only characteristic you pay any attention to in a De Niro performance. Look at how he transformed himself! But, as of late, all that work has seldom translated into a palpable passion an audience can feel as of late.

It's not just in De Niro's choice of roles. In too many of his performances, he seems to be a blank canvas waiting to be filled. There's no life, no interaction and no spark to his acting. De Niro's energy used to burn a hole in the screen, even when he chose roles that required him to contain this energy.

"Taxi Driver", arguably his greatest performance, was all about that containment; in many respects, his character is all about the inability to achieve orgasm. Travis Bickle can't form meaningful connections and yet De Niro finds a way to make his interactions with others vivid and electric. You could tell this was an actor who had something to prove. He was hungry. There have been a few exceptions here and there, but De Niro hasn't shown that level of hunger for many years. Maybe that's the crux of De Niro's current dilemna. Where does an artist go when he feels he has nothing left to prove? For Pacino, that haven is the theatre.

Pacino is all hunger. Pacino immerses everything he does (even the drek) with a barely containable energy. His love for acting is right up there on the screen and it's infectious. That's a quality that has never left Pacino. De Niro seems to be struggling to get it back.

How many performances does it seem De Niro is sleepwalking through? Compared to Pacino's list of performances, there are far too many.

3. TOO MUCH

Maybe it's simply because De Niro works too much. Your ability to surprise diminishes considerably the more you make yourself visible to audiences. Again, it's not just that his choices of films has been on the decline (the same would certainly go for Pacino, too) but that he's rarely been as surprising and effective as he once was on a consistent basis. At times, his performances play like a half-hearted rendition of his greatest hits package. His work contains nothing new to chew on.

Even when the writing or direction abuse him, Pacino creates at least a few seminal moments in each of his performances. Like I stated before...Pacino is constantly working at creating those moments that can breathe life into a scene. De Niro often goes lazy and looks positively bored. This also works against the gift of bringing out the best of your fellow actors.

4. STYLE

De Niro's work for the past decade has been too studied, too clinical and concentrated. He's not letting us in. An audience can't involve themselves with an actor's performance when they're completely inpenetrable.

Pacino, on the other hand, is nothing if not open. It's almost as if he's saying, "Hey, this acting thing is a ball! Come on in and join me!" He's fun to watch. It seems that Pacino's research takes where he needs to go by the time the film goes into production, but when the camera rolls he becomes a completely instinctual actor. De Niro, it seems, stops after the homework and tries to allow it to float him through the production process on its own. It's hard to decipher any efforts at experimentation or variance in too much of his work.

You can tell that Pacino is in a constant state of experimentation and discovery. An actor cannot live in his head alone. Acting is about expressing feeling through thought and action. De Niro seems to be performing exhaustive research so he can feel comfortable enough to live inside the role, and yet he forgets to give his performance any signs of life in the process.

5. THE FILMS

The films speak for themselves. Take a look at Pacino's filmography reviews and then compare them to De Niro's resume in my posting later this weekend. If you're like me, your recollection of De Niro's contributions to a lot of these films may be fuzzy. He simply fails to register in a lot of them. Pacino never ceases to be memorable in his films. Good or bad, when you watch a Pacino performance you know you've seen something.

Comments (1)

Pacino v De Niro

Pacino is not even in the same State as the De Niro ballpark and it's very easy to prove because Pacino has been playing the same roll for the past 30 years. With the exception of a few early roles such as Dog Day Afternoon he basically always plays the complex but flawed good guy. In comparison De Niro plays the good guy, the bad guy, everything in between - including the ordinary guy - and even lends his hand to comedy. I love Al Pacino - don't get me wrong - even though he isn't anywhere near as versatile he does what he does supremely well. However he simply doesn't have anywhere near the same range as De Niro. It''s cut and dried...

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