ou talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? . . . Well, who the hell else are you talkin’ . . . You talkin’ to me?’
Ask anyone to do a Robert De Niro impersonation and — like Robin Williams’s Genie in Disney’s Aladdin — they’ll whip up that classic mad-eyed routine from Taxi Driver. That De Niro is master at switching to psycho intensity is without doubt: he did it in 1976, and he’s still doing it to chilling effect in Cape Fear and This Boy’s Life. In fact, so often have we been told that this is ‘thc greatest actor of his generation’, that to take any opposing viewpoint is tantamount to cinematic heresy.
At 50 years of age, De Niro has packed a staggering 41 movies into a 29-year career, from a walk-on part in Marcel Camé’s Trois Chambres A Manhattan in 1965 to the lead (as the monster) in the latest blockbuster adaptation of Mary Shelley 's Frankenstein, currently shooting in England. In 1977, after the successes of Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and The Godfather Part I], Newsweek referred to the fast-rising star as someone who ‘seems to embody the conﬂicting, questioning energies of his generation, the generation coming to young maturity in the fragmented 705.’ But seventeen years and several more diverse movies on, can he now be so easily packaged as a cultural symbol?
De Niro’s standing as a critic’s fave has stood
A legend in his own screen-time, Robert De N iro has extended his talents to the director’s chair with A Bronx Tale. Alan Morrison assesses the man’s appeal, as Channel 4 begins a series of some of his greatest ﬁlms.
the test of time, although the public have proved a bit more discerning. Raging Bull may well be cited as the best movie of the 805, but it took only $10 . million against a budget of $17 million, despite a Best Actor Oscar. The star may earn kudos for taking part in ambitious, epic projects with European directors, like Bertolucci’s 1900, but even when he teamed up with Sergio Leone on the director’s $30 million swan-song Once Upon A Time In America, he could only nudge the take up to a mere $2.5 million. There’s also been dissatisfaction expressed in more recent years, as a preponderance of cameo roles of varying quality have paid the bill for setting up his Tribeca Film Centre and production company.
Where De Niro most frequently comes unstuck is with comedy and romance. With the notable exception of classy buddy movie Midnight Run, his comic talents run the gamut from A to B — wrinkled forehead, down-turned mouth, over and over. Stick him up on screen with a leading lady — even if it’s Meryl Streep, Liza Minnelli or Jane Fonda — and box ofﬁce returns will plummet. For, at the end of the day, Robert De Niro is a man’s man, an actor who appeals to those masculine traits of loyalty, honour and power, each sharpened by underlying violence. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why
At the end of the day, Robert De Niro is a man’s man, an actor who appeals to those masculine
traits of loyalty, honour and power, each sharpened by underlying violence.
his most successful turns to date have been as gangsters, boxers, soldiers. And also why he is more likely to endure than most, because he has never had to rely on being a screen sex symbol.
The one area where he’s been somewhat under- appreciated, and which seems to be appealing to him more and more, is that inhabited by the ordinary man, the quiet underdog who keeps his dignity and integrity despite the pressures around him. This is the De Niro we ﬁnd in Guilty By Suspicion, Mad Dog And Glory and, most recently, in his directorial debut, A Bronx Tale in which he plays a bus driver ‘whose positive inﬂuence on his son is challenged by a local hood. From godfather to good father, De Niro has captured the spirit and dilemmas of men who act as individuals and never waver from their personal visions.
Interestingly enough, it is the ‘ordinary people’ aspect that drew him to the 603 atmosphere of A Bronx Tale. ‘lt’s like a fable to me,’ he explains, ‘so I wanted to try and make it as real as possible and use real people, no actors. Or actors — there are some in the ﬁlm — who really understood what the whole milieu was, so that it had a certain authenticity to it . . . Why get an actor in there when it will take you two years to teach him what those guys can do in
asecond.’ His casting technique (he personally vetted hundreds of
extras) shows the same attention to absolute detail that he brings to his acting roles, whether he’s putting on excessive weight for Jake La Motta in Raging Bull or buying silk undies from Al Capone’s tailor for The Untouchables. ‘Bob approaches directing like he approaches acting,’ agrees Chazz Palminteri, De Niro’s co-star and writer ofA Bronx Tale. ‘Everything is meticulous, everything has to be right. A lot of people I’ve heard say “Well, Bob has got a reputation for being difﬁcult." To me, he’s not difﬁcult: he just works harder than anybody else.
You 'lalkin’ to Me?
Writer-director Quentin (Reservoir Dogs) Tarantino presents a 30-minute documentary on De Niro. illustrated by a number of ﬁlm clips.
Sun 6 Mar. 9pm.
The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, US. 1978) 182 mins. . 1 , The Vietnam War, as experienced in a i ,, g ‘ Pennsylvania steeltown. with De Niro ‘ as the blue-collar worker who sees ﬁrst-hand its horrors and their Stateside consequences. The ﬁlm’s , before/during/after three-act structure * sets the characters’ emotional and " “i
' physical scars into a more meaningful context. Cimino may have been criticised for his ‘racist' depiction of the Vietnamese, but the insanity of war has never been depicted more powerfully than in the edge-of-seat
i Russian roulette scenes.
LSun 6 Mar. 9.30pm
From godfather to good father
Alan Morrison rounds up the ﬁlms in the Channel 4 Robert De Niro season.
The Godfather Part II (Francis Coppola. US. 1974) 200 mins.
Regarded by many as one of the few sequels to surpass the original. this epic (:osa nostra tale ﬁlls in before and after
opportunist. Sun 13 Mar. 9pm
Don Corleone’s rise and fall. Al Pacino stars as Michael. taking up where his father left off. but it is De Niro, — winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar — who dominates in the intercut ﬂashbacks. Working Brando‘s mumblings backwards to budding characteristic traits and boasting a ﬂawless Sicilian accent. he portrays the young Don as a patient but commited
Jacknite (David Jones. us. 1989) 102
Eleven years after The Deer Hunter. De Niro again assumes the traumas of a Vietnam vet. Joseph ‘Jacknife' Megessey uses an extroven exterior to hide disturbing memories. and De Niro is skilled at keeping such craziness bubbling beneath surface control. None of the preoccupations or character traits
are anything we haven‘t seen before. but the acting by the central trio — De Niro, Ed Harris and Kathy Baker — make this neglected piece worth seeking out.
Sun 27 Mar. 9pm
Guilty By Suspicion (Irwin Winkler.
US. 1991) 105 mins.
Set against the background of the Hollywood blacklists. this intelligent a drama shows not only how Reds-under- ' ’ the-beds paranoia devastated the ﬁlmmaking community. it reveals how a human being can be stripped of position, family. friends and ultimately self~esteem when others play power games. De Niro imbues his character with a personal integrity and strength that becomes the rock around which the rest of the ﬁlm swirls. creating a saint with a very human face. Sun 3 Apr. 9pm
8 The List | 1—24 February 1994