So we have the contrast between two tragic heroes colliding.
have the detective, Pacino, who has had the family life, but it’s
broken down and he devotes his life to the good cause of hunting down
criminals and murderers, but who because of his job is not suitable to
be a family man. In his pursuit of justice and righteousness he has
unwittingly or not sacrificed the happiness of himself and his partner
in his un-self-questioning drive to catch his prey.
opposition to this we see De Niro playing a character who follows the
dark path but only so he may achieve his goal of reaching peace,
retirement from wrong-doing and to settle down with his woman and have a
So one has had the family, the whole way of life, and
destroyed it through righteous pursuits, the other uses dark pursuits to
achieve a righteous and whole way of life. Both characters are
tragically flawed. The detective can’t let go of the prey no matter what
this means for the ones he loves. The criminal seemingly can’t let go
of his goals to find peace but succumbs to the vengeance of murdering
the traitor in his gang and ultimately pays the price.
characters have attributes that are very appealing to the viewer. We can
on some level plump for the success of either man to achieve his goals,
but they can’t both succeed. Something has to give. The bad man has to
escape and straighten out his life, or the detective has to catch his
prey and bring him to justice. The film could have ultimately ended with
either conclusion and the viewer would have had some kind of
satisfaction. But it is chosen to end with the criminal making his final
mistake to pursue the traitor and so seals his own fate.
I found the diametrically opposed goals and flaws of these two main
characters to be very interesting. It is a masterclass in how to pitch
good versus evil with a reasonable smattering of good and bad
characteristics on both sides of the fence. The pursuit of good, and the
implementation of inherently righteous traits, expressing themselves in
a negative way when interacted with the world/certain circumstances
outside of the direct control of the characters. The way they are made
they can’t possibly follow a different path, and in effect ruin
themselves and reinforce their statuses as tragic heroes in completely
opposite, opposing yet not dissimilar ways. The drive of Man to do and
be happy within his own mind.
Then we have Val Kilmer’s
character, who in effect has the best of both worlds but who ultimately
finds this is unsustainable. He has the family and the criminal life,
but in the end loses both.
So on the surface of it we see a
story which is a lesson in right from wrong, and the just will always
prevail; but in reality we are given a lesson in how the choices we make
through life will ultimately determine whether we succeed within our
own personal transition towards where we need/have-to/will be.