Robert De Niro
He drove all around New York city in a taxi for his role in Taxi Driver , he put on 60 pounds and learnt boxing for Raging Bull . And when he had to play Al Capone, he actually tracked down the original tailors for Capone, and got his clothes designed by them. Perfectionist, method actor, legend, superstar and one of the greatest actors of all time, Robert Mario De Niro Jr, a.k.a Robert De Niro.
The 1973 movie Mean Streets , would propel De Niro into the limelight, it would also signal the beginning of his association with Martin Scorsese . De Niro played a supporting act as Johnny Boy , a self destructive, violent hot headed Mafia goon, in this tale of two friends in the Italian mob. Harvey Keitel played the lead role of an Italian American gangster torn between his loyalty to the mob, and his own deeply religious beliefs. Gritty, realistic, violent, this movie showcased De Niro’s ability as an actor. In 1974 De Niro, arrived with a bang, when he won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role of Don Vito Corleone in the Godfather II .
You Talking to Me
1976 would be the year De Niro, would burst forth with one of the finest performances, in a movie that has been acknowledged as one of the greatest. Travis Bickle , the cynical and lonely Taxi Driver, who wants to clean the world of scum, and save a young girl, who never wants to be saved. Travis Bickle was neither black or white, he was a whole shade of grey. Neurotic, insecure, talking to himself, yet he makes you emphathize with his character. De Niro mirrored the urban angst of 70’s America, in a performance which is simply unforgettable. Robert De Niro had arrived, and his place was secure in the galaxy of great actors . New York, New York(1977) his second collaboration with Marty, was a tribute to the Hollywood musicals, however the movie was a major failure, and drove Marty into depression.
1978 saw him as a Russian immigrant steel worker, who later becomes a prisoner in the Vietnam War, in The Deer Hunter . The movie also starred Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Cazale .
1980 saw Robert De Niro again teaming up with Marty, for the role of a boxer, who alienates himself from his friends and family, thanks to his temperamental nature, and ends up a total loser. Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, would be another of De Niro’s memorable performances. After some time, you see Jake Le Motta, not Robert De Niro . As the boxer, who ruins his personal life due to his jealous, suspicious nature, and whose life ends up in a mess, De Niro is just brilliant. By now he seemed to be an expert at playing tormented twisted characters. De Niro deservedly won the Oscar for this, though Marty as usual did not. Marty teamed up with De Niro again for King of Comedy(1983) where he plays an aspiring stand up comic, who wants to make it to top.
And then followed by Sergio “Spaghetti” Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America(1984), a sort of Jewish Godfather, where he plays David Noodles, a Jewish Ghetto youth, who makes it big during the Prohibition era. However this 4 hour movie, didn’t not meet with the desired success, critically as well as commercially.
1986 saw him in his first period flick the Mission , where he plays a convicted Portugese mercenary, Rodrigo Mendoza , who joins a Portugese mission in Brazil, and finds redemption, when he sacrifices his life to save the Guarani Indian tribe from Portuguese colonialists. The movie had a memorable score by Ennio Morricone , and some wonderful photography of the Igassu Falls in Brazil.
Al Capone, a name that struck terror in 1920’s Chicago. A man who was terror to gangsters and cops alike. A man who controlled the entire city of Chicago. A person who called himself as second hand furniture dealer, and in reality was the richest man of his times. And it needed an actor of De Niro’s caliber, to bring him to life in Brian De Palma’s 1987 Gangster flick, The Untouchables. Right from his dress, to his scowl, Capone’s receding hairline, and of course his ruthlessness, De Niro slips into the role, like a fish takes to water. Kevin Costner was the hero, Sean Connery walked away with all the seeti maar lines (“He takes out a knife, you take out a gun”), but at the end of the movie, its Capone, er, I mean , De Niro, that you remember, breaking a gang member’s skull with a baseball bat, strutting around like a Don, one of the best baddie portrayal.
In 1988, taking a break from his usual gangster, cynical loner roles, De Niro, did a superb comic turn in Midnight Run . An often underrated movie, this combines a road movie with a buddy theme, with De Niro playing Jack Walsh a bounty hunter who has to run from both the Mob and the Feds. Tongue in cheek, acerbic, witty, De Niro, once again proves his versatility.
1990 saw Robert De Niro, going back to his favorite gangster genre. Like John Wayne for Westerns and Charlton Heston for epics , De Niro seemed to be made for the gangster movies, as he again teamed up with his favorite Marty, for Goodfellas . De Niro as Jimmy Conway , a mobster who becomes a mentor and guide to the main hero, Henry Hill( Ray Liotta) who wants to rise to the top, he delivers another power packed performance in a role, that by now was second nature to him.
In the same year, he played the role of Leonard Lowe , in the real life movie, the Awakenings, as a patient who wakes up from a long sleep, and his subsequent experiences.
1991 saw him replay the role of Max Cady in Marty’s 1991 version of the 60’s thriller Cape Fear. However I never liked his over the top hamming in this movie, it was just nowhere close to Robert Mitchum’s performance in the original. Nick Nolte, played the role, Gregory Peck did in the original, as the lawyer, whose family is threatened by the convict De Niro.
Ironically De Niro’s 1993 directorial debut, A Bronx Tale , saw him as the helpless father Lorenzo Annelo , a hard working bus driver, whose son, gets involved with the Mafia, much to his dislike.
De Niro and Marty teamed up for another gangster flick in 1995’s Casino , only this time, the location shifted to the glitzy locales of Las Vegas. De Niro played the role of Sam Rothstein , an ace gambling handicapper, who runs the Casino, and Sharon Stone , his selfish, devious wife Ginger, for which she also got an Oscar nomination. However the movie was not as good as the earlier De Niro-Marty classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas .
Heat saw De Niro face off on screen with Al Pacino, a dream for many movie lovers. De Niro plays a lonely, methodical crook Neil Mc Cauley to Pacino’s Vincent Hanna, a top LAPD cop, with a messy personal life. And the showdown did not disappoint either, with the meeting scene in a LA restaurant being the highlight.
De Niro again showcased his comic ability in 1997’s Wag the Dog, a satire about the role of US media. De Niro teams up with Dustin Hoffman, as a spin doctor who takes the help of Hollywood producer Hoffman, to create a fake war, to divert attention from a Presidential sex scandal.
1998 saw him in Ronin , an action thriller featuring an ensemble cast of Jean Reno, Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce. De Niro playing an ex CIA agent, who gets involved in a murky espionage deal. The movie had some great car chese sequences, and to be honest, De Niro’s excellent performance, lifted an otherwise not to great movie.1999 saw him as a gangster Paul Vitti, who takes the help of shrink Ben Sobel( Billy Crystal) in the comedy Analyze This.