Robert De Niro at 80

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Robert De Niro at 80 ...we take a look at his best (and worst) films...

As Robert De Niro turns 80 we thought we’d take a look at his greatest roles and films……as well as his worst! With over 130 credits and counting to his name there’s a load to choose from so here are some of his best from right back in 1965 when he started his career on screen…..

 

Mean Streets (1973)

This was the film that bought him to attention of the studios. With twelve films and shorts already under his belt by this time he was cast by a fledgling  director Martin Scorsese in the beginning of a decades long working relationship and as the hot headed Johnny Boy he made an immediate impact

 

The Godfather Part II (1974)

Having missed out in being cast in the first film the sequel, often regarded as possibly the greatest sequel ever made, saw him cast as a young Don Corleone with the film flitting back and fore from the rise of Marlon Brando’s character (this time played by de Niro) to the modern day where the corruption of Michael Corleone begins as he rises to power as the head of the family. De Niro has perhaps the less showy part role to Pacino’s but it would win him the first of his two Oscars to date.

Robert De Niro at 80 ...we take a look at his best (and worst) films...

Taxi Driver (1976)

Reteaming with Martin Scorsese the film was a powerhouse for both director and star in a truly disturbing performance of an unhinged man teetering on the edge before exploding with violence. It’s controversial subject matter saw a young Jodie Foster as a child prostitute in a performance  beyond her years and holding her own against an mesmerizingly intense De Niro that saw him improvise one of cinema’s most quoted lines, ‘Are you talking to me?’’ that was a gift to impressionists  and chat show hosts alike. It would land him a Best Actor nomination but losing to Peter Finch in his own powerhouse performance in the satire, ‘Network’.

 

The Deer Hunter (1978)

This would be writer-director Michael Cimino’s break out hit and the film that saw Hollywood starting to address the legacy of the Vietnam war. The story of a group of friends saw De Niro and Christopher Walken in the films unbearably tense Russian Roulette scenes that made the film so memorable. A difficult film to shoot with Cimino driving his actors to the edge and in one case coming dangerously close to being killed in a rescue sequence involving a helicopter the film became one the best films ever made about the war vying with Oliver Stone’s Platoon and  Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket in later years.

 

Raging Bull (1980)

If there’s a film that demonstrated de Niro’s dedication to his craft it was Raging Bull. Once more working with Scorsese the film was a biopic of the real life boxer Jake la Motta ruined by his self-destructive violence De Nro got himself into tip top physical shape as the boxer before the film took a hiatus whilst he went to Italy and piled on the pounds becoming almost unrecognisable for La Motta’s later years. It was a bravura performance and de Niro rightly won the second of his two Oscars. The film was also a riposte to the increasingly glitzy Rocky films which already had its first sequel released that took a far more glamourous approach to boxing in contrast to Raging Bull’s brutal, bloody, sweat drenched carnage where Scorsese took the camera inside the ring and in turn  the audience who would feel every body blow

 

The King of Comedy (1982)

Again another film with Scorsese in a film well ahead of its time with De Niro playing an unsuccessful stand up comic desperate to be famous and kidnapping his idol played by Jerry Lewis in a rare straight role. Both were excellent in their respective roles and the films theme of fame at any cost was decades ahead of its time before reality stars and influencers made it all too real

 

The Untouchables (1987)

An undoubted crowd pleaser director Brian De Palma’s film saw him reunite  with De Niro after almost twenty years since their first tentative move into film making with 1968’s ‘Greetings’ . Based on the TV series it saw Kevin Costner in a star making lead role joined by Sean Connery as Chicago’s only Scottish accented Irish cop facing off against De Niro as Al Capone in what was really only a handful of scenes but still proved that he could commanded a film. The film was a huge commercial and critical success

 

Midnight Run (1988)

De Niro had established himself as probably the leading film actor of his generation in  heavyweight dramatic roles but Midnight Run showed that he could also do comedy albeit still in a typically hard assed role as a bounty hunter escorting a Mafia accountant who has jumped bail. Played by Charles Grodin the two bounced off each other brilliantly with Grodin’s lawyer often unintentionally  thwarting De Niro’s bounty hunter whose frustration often escalated to boiling point.

Goodfellas (1990)

Arguably Scorsese’s finest film , certainly his most popular and a film that battles with Thee Godfather as the best mob movie ever made. Led by Ray Liotta,  he was supported by a De Niro and a psychotically career defining role for Joe Pesci. They formed an unholy trinity and it was de Niro who provided the balance between an electric Pesci and a star making turn from Liotta in one of his finest films

 

Heat (1995)

An epic tale of a gang of career criminals led by De Niro, the film from was developed from writer director Michael Mann’s TV movie  ‘L.A. Takedown’ and took it to a whole new level. A labyrinthine tale that rewarded multiple viewings and contained one of the best ever shoot outs committed to celluloid. A plethora of actors on peak form and led by a single minded De Niro dedicated to his heists but clinical enough to be able to, ‘walk away from it in thirty seconds if the heat is round the corner’. The film almost saw him reunite with Al Pacino after The Godfather Part II where they had not shared a scene but here their face to face in a diner was low key dynamite. Full of compelling moments Heat was as much Mann’s film and his attention to detail as it was De Niro’s.

 

Meet the Parents (2000)

Whilst Midnight Run had proved his penchant for comedy Meet the Parents was an out and out crowd pleaser with De Niro clearly having a whale of a time as the over protective ex-CIA agent and relishing daft lines such as,  ‘I have nipples. Can you milk me?’ – he never go to say things like that in Raging Bull

 

………So with a huge array of great films with performances to match there were inevitably dogs and perhaps by far and away the worst was 2016’s ‘Dirty Grandpa’ co-starring Zac Efron. Here he plays a leering, lecherous former army colonel travelling with his grandson to Florida for Spring Break and getting them both into ‘hilarious’ japes. The film was a flop and rightly so and was clearly a cash grab for the actor in a film that cast a shade over his previously impressive body of work. So as Robert de Niro turns 80 there’s thankfully been nothing anywhere near as bad

related feature: The Deer Hunter- 4K Blu Ray 40th Anniversary restoration

related feature: ‘Boiling Point’ director Philip Barantini tell us how he shot his 92 minute film in one shot!

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