In light of the recent flick starring the ultra-talented Bobby DeNiro that has tanked at the box office (Killer Elite, which I haven’t seen yet), I realized I’ve never shared with you just how much I absolutely love that man. I admit his films of late haven’t exactly lived up to the high standard he set back in his hay-day, but he is practically a living legend and regardless of what remains of his career, his legacy of insane talent will never be tarnished, as far as I’m concerned.
Raging Bull- Long before biopics were the sure-fire way to an Oscar nomination, DeNiro stunned audiences the world over with his complete transformation into boxer Jake La Motta. Coincidentally, he did earn an Oscar (the only win he’s taken home for a lead role- for shame, Academy, for shame!) and paved the way for every other actor who later tried to embody an actual (read: not fictional) person.
The Godfather Part II- Marlon Brando captivated us as Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He made being a mob boss look smooth, easy. Romanticized it in a way no one had previously done. Then, a few years later, DeNiro showed us a much younger Vito and gave the character a rich depth that made it effortless for us to forgive him anything. He was bold, yet subtle. Strong, yet tender. Powerful. Ambitious. Loyal to his family. A man determined to make it in America. To give his family the good life. To live the American dream. Only DeNiro could make it look respectable.
Cape Fear- Proving yet again that his genius knows no bounds, he took on the role played 30 years earlier by Robert Mitchum and not only did he do the role and his predecessor justice, he even earned an Oscar nomination, a rarity for a remake. Leave it to Bobby to blaze the way. He scared the bejeesus out of me in this and was so intensely creepy, so weird and disturbed and irrefutably dangerous, he made my skin literally crawl. There is nothing this man can’t do.
Goodfellas- In The Godfather Part II, he showed us a man desperate to make a life for his family, a man with dreams so big, he abandoned morality to realize them. In Goodfellas, he gave us just the opposite: a shallow, greedy thug who had neither enough brains nor heart to become anything more than a crook. When they killed Tommy (Joe Pesci), reducing Jimmy (DeNiro) to a puddle of tears, oh, we pitied him. Not for the heartbreak he suffered, but for the weakling he revealed himself to be.
Taxi Driver- There are few performances about which one could honestly say: NO other actor could have (successfully) played that role. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector. Ian McKellen as Gandalph. And Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle. The character would have been nothing more than a creepy loser and the film a weird story about the most twisted of those living in the margins. Instead, thanks to Bobby’s mind-blowing performance, the film is an iconic piece of American filmography and Travis Bickle, a dark hero.
The Deer Hunter– Just thinking of this movie makes a knot form in my throat. It’s not only among DeNiro’s best, but also Christopher Walken’s, Meryl Streep’s and John Cazale’s (sadly, this was also his last). The Russian Roulette scene in which DeNiro’s character creates an opening for he and his friends to escape imprisonment as POWs is the single most intense, heart-stopping scene in a film I have ever seen or can imagine. The final scene with DeNiro and Walken just might be the most heart-breaking.
Which DeNiro performances are your favorites?