With a career as established as Robert De Niro’s, it goes without saying that most of his films are enjoyable for one reason or another. Lately, De Niro has turned up some less than quality flicks. Yet the quality of acting is always there. Sometimes he may go on a cold streak as far as the projects he chooses, but one good role has him back in the game. With the exception of solid supporting work in 2011’s Limitless, De Niro hadn’t found much success for much of the 2000’s. However, he knocked it out of the park in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. He has a storied acting career spanning four decades, with two Oscar wins and several more nominations. It’s hard to deny his impact as one of the best actors of all-time.
Winning an Oscar for his work, De Niro channels all the rage, machismo, and brokenness of boxer Jake LaMotta. A larger than life personality, LaMotta routinely let his jealousy, and “never good enough” mentality put up barriers to his success. De Niro makes LaMotta an unsettling rage monster. Committing all the way, De Niro is brilliant, and not only lets his words do the talking, but he also says a lot with his face. Overall, Raging Bull is perhaps De Niro’s best performance, and one that isn’t forgotten as the film ages.
De Niro won his first Oscar filling in the enormous shoes of Marlon Brando. Playing a young Vito Corelone, De Niro holds his own. In what his perhaps his most subtle and thoughtful performance, De Niro brings a quiet confidence to the role that almost eclipses Brando’s take on the character. It’s a deeper look after all. The movie shows Vito’s transition from Sicily to New York and is outstanding in his transition into the man we know from the first film.
Michael Cimino’s Vietnam War era epic has DeNiro bearing much of the burden of the film. This masterpiece shows the horrors of war along with the war back home. It’s a chilling and altogether heartbreaking performance by De Niro. In a film where all the performances are so strong, De Niro manages to stand out from the pack. His work in particular at the end of the film is harrowing and heartbreaking in one of cinema’s most incredible sequences. His emotional range is truly something incredible to watch.
All Rupert Pupkin wants to do is make it big. He is willing to do anything to do that. Including kidnap his hero. De Niro is astounding as Pupkin, capturing the unsettling nature of someone fueled by obsession. De Niro expertly charts Pupkin’s at first charming demeanor into his eventual mental breakdown. His pestering of Jerry Lewis’s late night TV show host is persistent and often disturbing. His narcissistic demeanor oddly provides some charm but often it wears off quickly. From charm, it turns into eeriness when Pupkin sits in front of mannequin studio audience feeding into his naive outlook on life.
De Niro delivers his most iconic line in this deeply disturbing drama. “Are you talking to me?”. De Niro’s most infamous quote, an improvised line, is just one of the many moments where De Niro shines in this Scorsese masterpiece. De Niro’s Travis Bickle doesn’t understand the way the world works. Bickle has a proclivity for violence but only in defense of a moral code where he sees himself as the hero. He sees the world as rotting, his social graces often find him making the wrong decisions with women. You could write a book about the fascinating and complex nature of Bickle. The biggest take away from the film though, is De Niro is excellent.
In one of his first breakout roles, De Niro plays an immature man, Johnny Boy, running from his problems. In addition to running from problems, Johnny Boy seems to always create new problems for himself. De Niro is electrifying in the film and plays incredibly well off of Harvey Keitel who is equally fantastic in the movie. De Niro gives a performance that feels authentic, with a character that feels liven in. Johnny Boy is certainly the more showy role and he is able to pull it off without going too far into a sensationalized territory.
A calming, but fierce presence, De Niro does take a backseat to Joe Pesci in this role. However, he absolutely affecting and menacing in the film as James Conway. Conway is never more menacing than a simple take of him smoking a cigarette at a bar. It’s an extended take, where De Niro says everything you need to know with his body language and eyes. Even from the moment, Conway enters the frame for the first time, you immediately get a sense of who he is just from the mere presence De Niro brings. It’s a feat few actors can stake a claim to.
A change of pace is what De Niro delivers in Awakenings, a film about a catatonic patient who, well awakens. De Niro really hits all the beats and physical elements of the performance. It’s a tear-jerking performance and one that without a sympathetic and wonderful turn from Robin Williams, could be for not. That isn’t to take away anything from his work here. De Niro believably plays a man trying desperately to reconnect to the real world after missing out on it for so many years. It is perhaps a film under-seen in De Niro’s filmography, but definitely one that deserves a watch.
De Niro returned to top form turning in a heartbreaking performance as the obsessive-compulsive gambling addict and Eagles fan. Playing the father to Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), De Niro expertly plays a man who seemingly professes to know everything about his son’s mental health issues, while not understanding any of his own problems. He is a creature of habit often fidgeting and nailing down routines to confirm his own superstitions. They are superstitions he uses to justify his gambling and his obvious undiagnosed OCD.
As the reserved and subtle thief Neil McCauley, De Niro blends seamlessly into Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece. A true cat and mouse game between McCauley and Det. Hanna (Al Pacino), De Niro exhibits a quiet confidence to his work here. It’s similar to his work his The Godfather Part II, wherein he dials back the eccentricities and the boisterousness of his persona to deliver a terrific subdued turn. It’s a meditative work for him to a point. Bouncing expertly off of Pacino, he uncovers a cool personality, while inhibiting and exuding a nuanced sense of control.