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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Robert De Niro

12.27.2015
Last week, we took a look at the career of master director Quentin Tarantino. Given his stature, it's not surprising many of the best actors in the biz wanted to work with him, including this week's subject...
Robert De Niro
robert de niro heat

Nowadays, it's very common to say that Robert De Niro has lost his edge, that he's slumming by taking countless roles in goofy comedies like THE BIG WEDDING or starring in VOD dreck like FREELANCERS or HEIST. This is true in some regard, but De Niro deserves a lot more respect than he's getting. In between 1972 (the year of MEAN STREETS) and 1998 (RONIN) De Niro was responsible with such an incredible array of classics that my top ten at the bottom of the article could have easily turned into a top twenty (some of my favorites – like MIDNIGHT RUN, CASINO and THE UNTOUCHABLES- didn't make the list) as that's simply how solid he was. If the output has tapered-off a bit, more of the blame should be placed on the kinds of movies Hollywood is making rather than De Niro himself. When given the right film, such as David O. Russell's SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK or JOY, he's able to deliver – no problem.

robert de niro raging bull

Whatever his recent film output has been, no one will ever challenge De Niro when it comes to listing the most important actors of the last fifty years. Even his closest contemporary, Al Pacino, can't quite challenge him as far as the body of work goes. While Pacino would sometimes take extended sabbaticals from film to work on-stage, De Niro kept churning out movies regardless of the commercial viability. In the eighties, many of his best performances in movies like ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and THE MISSION were virtually ignored by American audiences (although they were rightly celebrated in Europe) only to discover an audience later.

robert de niro goodfellas

Being an elder statesman of cinema, De Niro is still in-demand, with many younger actors viewing it as kind of a stepping-stone going toe-to-toe with him, as he's still considered one of the few true master actors left in the industry. Hopefully De Niro, before packing it in, will get another classic role to sink his teeth into – especially if his pal Martin Scorsese finally nails down the long-gestating THE IRISHMAN. We'll see, but even if not his career exists as a master-class in the art of film acting and he certainly gets my vote for perhaps the greatest actor to ever work in the medium.

His Best Work
 robert de niro the deer hunter

This is very difficult as De Niro's given dozens of classic performances. I guess for me, De Niro's best acting is featured in Michael Cimino's THE DEER HUNTER. De Niro actually has the less showy part, as the quiet Michael, one of a gang of steel town workers who lives through the hell of Vietnam only to find himself adrift when he comes back. The evolution of the character is fascinating, as he starts-off as this stoic guy, one who holds himself up higher than his friends, only to totally break down following his time in Nam. There's a scene where De Niro, locked-up in a cage with Christopher Walken, just totally loses his shit and starts screaming “motherf**ker” at one of the guards that feels like De Niro might actually be identifying with the character so much that he was starting to lose his mind (indeed, De Niro has said it was the hardest shoot he was ever involved in). De Niro really runs the gamut in this – in that we see the badass De Niro during the Nam war scenes, the funny De Niro when he gets drunk and streaks a wedding, and finally the vulnerable De Niro in the movie's second half (or has I used to refer to it in VHS days – tape two).

His Most Overrated Film
robert de niro analyze this

I despise ANALYZE THIS. OK, it's not actually that bad a movie. As a seventeen-year-old in '99 I thought it was OK even though it's massive success baffled me. The reason I hate the movie is that it marks the moment De Niro's career split-off into a more commercial direction, with ANALYZE THIS leading to MEET THE PARENTS and so on. Without ANALYZE THIS I'm tempted to think De Niro would have bailed on doing comedies (although it was a genre that always fascinated him – to the point he flirted with starring in Penny Marshall's BIG). Then again, it did open De Niro's body of work up to a younger audience, so there's that. Still, for massive fans of his like me it's a bittersweet film.

His Most Underrated Film
robert de niro king of comedy

Oh, there are so many. A BRONX TALE (which he also directed), THE MISSION, JACKNIFE, RONIN, JACKIE BROWN, COP LAND, etc – all are amazing and not given enough love. However, the one truly brilliant film De Niro (initially) never got his proper due for was THE KING OF COMEDY. A flop back in 1983, THE KING OF COMEDY is now viewed as one of Martin Scorsese's masterpieces, and it's a fascinating companion piece to TAXI DRIVER, with wannabe-comic Rupert Pupkin very much cut from the same cloth as the more dangerous Travis Bickle. I've known many Rupert Pupkin's in my life. Heck, at times I've almost been a Rupert Pupkin myself – but luckily my sanity held out somewhat. Anyone who hasn't seen KING OF COMEDY is missing out on one of the essential pieces of film acting – ever.

His Best Scene

Again, there are so many classics. That said, whatever could it be but the “you talkin' to me?” scene from TAXI DRIVER. I recently heard Tom Sizemore go-on The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast where he went on about how De Niro's performance in this unerved him as a young man, in that it forces us to relate to a man who's clearly insane and dangerous. However, what/s especially brilliant about both the performance and Scorsese's directing is that Travis is never judged, and as such the film is infinitely more complicated.

His Ten Best Films

10. BRAZIL
9. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
8. THE KING OF COMEDY
7. THE MISSION
6. THE GODFATHER PART II
5. RAGING BULL
4. THE DEER HUNTER
3. TAXI DRIVER
2. HEAT
1. GOODFELLAS

Up Next

While THE IRISHMAN may or may not ever happen, De Niro's as busy as always, acting opposite his JOY co-star Edgar Ramirez in HANDS OF STONE, and then hopping over to HBO's THE WIZARD OF LIES – a Bernie Madoff biopic from his SLEEPERS/WAG THE DOG director Barry Levinson.

Source: JoBlo.com

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10:56AM on 12/28/2015
Once upon a time in America needs more recognition. Masterpiece.
Once upon a time in America needs more recognition. Masterpiece.
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10:39AM on 12/28/2015
I must confess Analyze This is something of a guilty pleasure for me. I had low expectations going in because I'd seen The Don's Analyst, which had the same basic premise, and was pretty bad, but bringing in mob-movie veterans Chazz Palminteri (whose A Bronx Tale is absolutely one of De Niro's unsung masterpieces, with the man himself doing double-duty behind the camera) and the late Joe Viterelli, and Billy Crystal doing what he does best. In retrospect, between the lackluster sequel, and
I must confess Analyze This is something of a guilty pleasure for me. I had low expectations going in because I'd seen The Don's Analyst, which had the same basic premise, and was pretty bad, but bringing in mob-movie veterans Chazz Palminteri (whose A Bronx Tale is absolutely one of De Niro's unsung masterpieces, with the man himself doing double-duty behind the camera) and the late Joe Viterelli, and Billy Crystal doing what he does best. In retrospect, between the lackluster sequel, and where De Niro's career went after, I understand it may not be everyone's thing, and only really works because the two leads are so identifiable in those types of roles. Taxi Driver remains my favorite movie of De Niro's AND Scorsese's, and one of the most uncomfortable movies ever made. Ronin is also a personal favorite, and he and Jean Reno make for one imposing team-up.
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9:15AM on 12/28/2015
Casino is his best film for me. Also love Good Fellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Meet the Parents was a comedy I loved as a 12 year old.
Casino is his best film for me. Also love Good Fellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Meet the Parents was a comedy I loved as a 12 year old.
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3:41AM on 12/28/2015
The score was the last film he actually looked like he knew what he was doing in.
The score was the last film he actually looked like he knew what he was doing in.
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5:31AM on 12/28/2015
Ya know I was gonna argue with you, and I looked at his filmography, and there are 3-4 films he's pretty good in post The Score, but you are pretty right
Ya know I was gonna argue with you, and I looked at his filmography, and there are 3-4 films he's pretty good in post The Score, but you are pretty right
3:04AM on 12/28/2015
Robert DeNiro is definitely one badass of an actor. He's that good. It's too bad that his movies as of late sort of a parody or too much of a comedy comparing to his previous works during 1970s - 1990s. Love him best in Casino and Heat.
Robert DeNiro is definitely one badass of an actor. He's that good. It's too bad that his movies as of late sort of a parody or too much of a comedy comparing to his previous works during 1970s - 1990s. Love him best in Casino and Heat.
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12:22AM on 12/28/2015
In my book, the greatest actor ever!!
Even when he's doing the "popular" shite, he's the stand out actor.
In my book, the greatest actor ever!!
Even when he's doing the "popular" shite, he's the stand out actor.
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12:02AM on 12/28/2015
It's hard to negatively criticize De Niro because his filmography has quality and quantity. I think he is the owner of the largest amount of brilliant performances, no matter the quality of the film - though they are usually pretty great too. Some actors may have a performance or two better than De Niro's, but they don't have even half his amount of classic roles (off the top of my head, Daniel Day Lewis). His work was so incredible it basically gave him passes for like 80% of his roles post
It's hard to negatively criticize De Niro because his filmography has quality and quantity. I think he is the owner of the largest amount of brilliant performances, no matter the quality of the film - though they are usually pretty great too. Some actors may have a performance or two better than De Niro's, but they don't have even half his amount of classic roles (off the top of my head, Daniel Day Lewis). His work was so incredible it basically gave him passes for like 80% of his roles post Analyze This (or that? Whatever the sequel was). I mean, take away his Scorsese films and a couple others, and there's a case to be made for him to be put in movie jail. But his stuff was - IS - still so incredible it's given him passes. With all that being said, I do think the "tapered off out put" quality of his films is HIS responsibility, not Hollywoods. Well, it's his and the audiences that pay to continue to watch that shit. But even still, I'd say he has the best filmography of any actor, from an acting stand point. Maybe even quality of film too.

On a side note, I always thought Casino was over-rated. Of course it's very good, but plays like a Goodfellas remake, not even spiritual sequel.
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1:06AM on 12/28/2015
His attempt at humor while accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes was cringeworthy. I wonder who wrote it. Maybe it was the delivery...
His attempt at humor while accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes was cringeworthy. I wonder who wrote it. Maybe it was the delivery...
9:53PM on 12/27/2015
One of his more underrated films that I've always enjoyed is The Score. Gem of a cat and mouse film with terrific performances from DeNiro, and Norton.

I do wish he had won for Silver Linings Playbook though. I thought he was more deserving than Waltz that year for Django.
One of his more underrated films that I've always enjoyed is The Score. Gem of a cat and mouse film with terrific performances from DeNiro, and Norton.

I do wish he had won for Silver Linings Playbook though. I thought he was more deserving than Waltz that year for Django.
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3:05AM on 12/28/2015
The Score is greatly underrated. It's actually a really good movie. I'm glad you brought that up, man.
The Score is greatly underrated. It's actually a really good movie. I'm glad you brought that up, man.
5:26AM on 12/28/2015
The score was great and he was the only good thing in SLP. Better than Waltz? Idk
The score was great and he was the only good thing in SLP. Better than Waltz? Idk
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