WHY I LOVE ROBERT DE NIRO PART TWO


Hello and welcome to part two of WHY I LOVE ROBERT DE NIRO! Part one can be found here. Please find the next ten best performances of his career, in chronological order, below. The final ten will arrive tomorrow!


  1. Angel Heart: It is easy to forget now, but for a time Mickey Rourke was an incredibly exciting acting talent. With movies like The Pope of Greenwich Village and Barfly, he was a superb talent who had an energy about him that was quite unusual. In 1987, Director Alan Parker - an incredible talent himself - brought Rourke together with Robert De Niro in a very dark and twisted Noir Horror film. Angel Heart is riveting, gloriously stylish and with two top tier performances from Rourke and De Niro. It is a great shame that through many strange ways, Rourke would find his career stalled and thrown away, until his great comeback in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which would unfortunately only have a brief impact on the quality of his projects. Anyway, it's a thrill to see both Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro together, at the height of their powers, and Alan Parker does a brilliant job as Director. 
  2. Midnight Run: In the late 1980s, The King of Comedy aside, it was a very strange thing no doubt to see Robert De Niro in a full on comedic role. This was before the huge hit Meet the Parents, its sequels and the seemingly endless list of lighthearted comedic roles, of varying degrees of quality. Midnight Run, directed by Martin Brest, sees De Niro team up with the incredibly funny Charles Grodin, in a race across the country to bring Grodin's character, Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas, to Los Angeles, where he is wanted for skipping out on a $450,000 bail. This was after "The Duke" embezzled $15 million from a Mafia boss, and gave it to charity. Now given that set-up, Midnight Run could easily be a cheesy, cheap shot affair, not unlike some of the movies De Niro has chosen to star in the last decade or so, but the chemistry between he and Grodin is off the charts. Grodin, a supreme comic talent is utterly hilarious, and De Niro growing irritation, and ultimately respect and friendship is incredibly enjoyable to witness. De Niro has elite level comedic timing and instincts, something we will see again in a little while.
  3. Goodfellas: Oh boy, this is a big one. Goodfellas is one of the greatest movies of all time, and on a very short list for best picture by Martin Scorsese. The tale of Henry Hill's life in the Mafia, featuring Ray Liotta as Hill, acting alongside Robert De Niro, Lorraine Braco - whom you will know from The Sopranos - and of course, Joe Pesci as the utterly deranged, dangerous creation, Tommy DeVito. Goodfellas has a power and energy that is truly awesome to behold, alternating between utter savagery, the blackest of black comedy and pure entertainment. De Niro is excellent here, as a kind of mentor to Henry Hill, and ultimately as someone who fears what Hill "flipping" could do to his life of ill gotten luxury. If by some strange series of events, you have not seen this picture, do so AT ONCE. It is one of the great works of art of the last hundred years. 
  4. Awakenings: Directed by Penny Marshall, Awakenings is a profoundly moving picture starring Robin Williams as a doctor whose belief that seemingly comatose patients are still in there somewhere, leads to awakening them and their reclaiming their lives. Robert De Niro is one of those patients, who was just a boy when he entered his catatonic state. Awakenings is a very sad movie, as the relief that the patients experience is temporary and there are no happy endings. This however is a big reason why the movie hits so hard. Life itself is a temporary relief from non-existence, that we are conscious and "here" at all, is a miracle. In this way, it is a picture that is eminently relatable and of powerful use in our day to day struggles with this all too brief respite from the void. Robin Williams is at his best here, as a truly good and compassionate man, and De Niro's turn as his patient, who just wants the opportunity to live a full life in the time he has left, is heartbreaking. Penny Marshall does a great job as director, and manages to make a movie that should by all rights be depressing, into something life affirming and meaningful to us, as inherently temporary beings. 
  5. Cape Fear: Cape Fear is generally regarded as a minor Scorsese/De Niro picture, but I think that is being unkind to it. It is, remake or not, an intense, frequently terrifying and altogether masterly Film Noir. De Niro plays Max Cady, a convicted rapist who seeks revenge against the lawyer, and his family, who allowed him to go to prison for 14 years. The original was of course one of the great Noir films of the 1960s, starring Robert Mitchum as Max Cady, the part to which De Niro would turn his hand. Robert Mitchum is a legend of Noir, and cinema in general, and to follow up on a part he did, and did extremely well, is not exactly an easy task. Yet, De Niro turns in a performance that is just as sinister, unsettling and downright terrifying at the climax. They are different interpretations of the same material, and while it must be said that a greater ability to explore darker subject matter aids De Niro, both are equal with each other in my opinion. 
  6. This Boy's Life: I only saw This Boy's Life a couple of days ago. It is the first film to feature Leonardo Di Caprio and Robert De Niro - the two great Martin Scorsese collaborators - and while Di Caprio is young and quite clearly not at the height of his powers, it is a pleasure to see them on screen together. De Niro plays a rotten human being who marries Di Caprio's mother, at first seemingly kind and charming, quickly becoming a despicable bully and an all around nasty son of a bitch. Some of the humour in the film is awkward and doesn't always land, but the performances of the three characters played by De Niro, Di Caprio and the wonderful Ellen Barkin, are strong enough to carry the whole show. Upsetting in parts, and certainly triggering for anyone who experienced physical abuse growing up, a very good picture. Let's just hope that the Corona virus does not stop us getting that Scorsese film featuring Leo and Bob! 
  7. A Bronx Tale: Based on the one man play of the same name by Chazz Palminteri, A Bronx Tale is the first film that Robert De Niro directed, and is in stark contrast to De Niro in This Boy's Life. Here he plays a decent, hard working and loving father, who tries to keep his son from falling in with local mob hoods, the boss played beautifully by the play/screenplay's writer, Chazz Palminteri. The film is a wonderful, endlessly well observed bit of work that will resonate with all who grew up in traditional and not so traditional circumstances. As we have talked about, it is astonishing to me just how good De Niro is at performing roles that are complete opposites. Such range and power. You feel the pain from De Niro, a bus driver, who tries his hardest to stop his son going down the easy and criminal path. 
  8. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Directed by and starring Kennith Branagh as Dr Frankenstein, and Robert De Niro as his creation, this is a film I was not sure whether to include. It isn't all smooth sailing, and there are some parts that do not work. What does work however is more than good enough to recommend seeing the movie, especially for the performances of De Niro, Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter. De Niro, as the creation, is truly moving and horrifying in equal measures. A tragic character, and he performs it with some grace and care. A challenge no doubt to embody a character who is all but silent throughout the picture. If you like the novel, or the classic 1931 film starring Boris Karloff, it is well worth a watch. 
  9. Casino: The final feature length collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese until last year's superb film, I Heard You Paint Houses, Casino is a film that has grown more powerful with age. Thought by some to be a sub-par variation on a well worn theme, the film's excellence is much more apparent today than it was when it was released in 1995. Two of my heroes, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, always liked when a movie taught you how things worked, especially when they were things of which, few people knew the ins and outs. The details of how a casino worked at that point in time is compelling in the extreme, and as the characters are weaved in and out, things just get more so. The film again unites De Niro with Joe Pesci, who plays another psychotic human being in typically powerful fashion. Sharon Stone is excellent here, and received an Oscar nomination for her performance. 
  10. Heat: Directed by supreme stylist Michael Mann, Heat is the heist film to end all heist films. Some of the greatest action set-pieces ever committed to film, and an incredible cast, including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Val Kilmer. In 1995, Pacino and De Niro had never done a picture together, in spite of being friends. Although there is only one scene between the two legendary actors, it is worth the wait. Full of tension, hard worn mutual respect and a sense that one of the two was going to be going down, it is a masterclass of acting and direction. Heat is just a great fun time all around. 

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