Tag Archives: Robert De Niro

Midnight Run (1988) 4.33/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 74.9
Genre: Action, Comedy
Duration: 126 mins
Director: Martin Brest
Stars: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto

About as much fun as you can have watching one guy drag another cross country, Midnight Run is a minor triumph on the résumé of Robert De Niro who stars as a bounty hunter attempting to bring in Charles Grodin’s crooked accountant while being pursued by the mob, the FBI, and a competing bounty hunter. The movie is chockfull of motley characters played with an abundance of personality (not to mention a generous comedic license), from Yaphet Kotto’s testy FBI agent, John Ashton’s indefatigable pain-in-the-ass bounty hunter, to Dennis Farina’s hilariously baleful mob boss who spends most of the movie threatening his hapless goons with various forms of highly imaginative corporal punishment. De Niro embraces the easy comedy of George Gallo’s classy screenplay and drives the movie with an acerbic moxie but, despite a well balanced chemistry, Grodin (along with Farina) steals the show with his usual combination of dry warmth and laconic delivery. Martin Brest directs it all with an understated panache adding little touches here and there that contribute richly to the overarching sense of fun – such as Robert Miranda’s big lug of a henchman mock boxing with Richard Foronjy as the latter pleads with Farina over the phone for forgiveness. Everything skips along to Danny Elfman’s mirthful score in an unapologetically lighthearted style but there’s enough drama wrapped up within Gallo’s neat plot to justify Midnight Run’s status as one of the 1980’s best comedy thrillers.

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The Score (2001) 3.57/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 73.7
Genre: Crime
Duration: 124 mins
Director: Frank Oz
Stars: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando

A neat little crime thriller about an ageing master thief (Robert De Niro) who takes one last job when a brash and cocky young counterpart (Edward Norton) convinces him to stage a robbery in his own town. Frank Oz defies the worn premise by bringing a fresh energy to the caper and allowing the considerable acting talent at his disposal to improvise their characters across the movie. As the man behind the schemes, Marlon Brando is, in particular, a treat and despite not getting on with his director, the latter is clearly in his element when Brando begins playing with his lines. De Niro had hit a point in his career where he was giving less to each role but while nowhere near as intense as earlier showings, he’s strong as oak in this film. He does however allow both Brando and Norton plenty of room to shine and they take every inch. Though littered with slickly executed set pieces, The Score’s most distinctive technical achievement is Jackson De Govia’s production design. Informed largely by its Montreal setting, it’s one of the chief reasons the film feels as fresh as it does. Films set in lesser seen cities are often more interesting not necessarily because of something inherent to the cities but because the director and DP usually take more time to introduce the audience to the town and its personality. In two or three early scene Oz, De Govia, and Rob Hahn’s noir-esque photography gently gives us a flavour of this Montreal and it inhabits the film as much as it inhabits the city. It all adds up to one hell of a classy thriller that measures modestly but proudly against the best heist films.

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The Deer Hunter (1978) 4.95/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 86.1
Genre: Drama, War
Duration: 182 mins
Director: Michael Cimino
Stars: Robert De Niro,  Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken

The opening hour to Michael Cimino’s masterpiece is as real as life gets. Six young steelworkers from a small industrial town living it up for one last weekend of drunken mayhem and their ritual hunting before three of them head off to the Vietnam war. In this hour, we see both Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken giving searing performances that lay the groundwork for what is to come and the way in which Cimino switches to that darker war torn world almost in the blink of an eye is surely one of the most profound and punctuating of cinematic statements. Cimino’s craft in this film is all about pacing and trust in his actors and, with a cast that includes De Niro, Walken, John Cazale, and Meryl Streep the pay off was enormous. De Niro is as captivating as it gets and the film hangs on his shoulders. But none of the actors operating underneath him miss a step. The war scenes are few but so visceral and powerful are they that they will be with you forever. And just when you think it can’t get any better, The Deer Hunter ties everything together with one of the most poignant film endings.

Mean Streets (1973) 4.67/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 94.7
Genre: Crime
Duration: 112  mins
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval

Martin Scorsese’s searing Mean Streets screams cinematic counter-culture from the first scene to the last as Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, a loan collector who must continually balance morality, religion, familial duty with a night life of dangerous partying on the mean streets of the director’s youth. Keitel’s performance is flawless and full of playful improvisation which adds layers of substance to his various on-screen relationships. However, this film has been best remembered for Robert De Niro’s incendiary performance as Johnny Boy, Charlie’s unstable cousin who has been ostracised by everyone but Charlie and whose continuing descent threatens to take Charlie with him. The level of innovation and style present in Scorsese’s direction is truly breath-taking with the closing sequence in particular standing out as one of the great moments of 1970’s cinema. In fact, on many levels, even those beyond its direction, Mean Streets is arguably Scorsese’s best picture. A true cinematic masterpiece.

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Wag the Dog (1997) 3.71/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 69.8
Genre: Satire
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Barry Levinson
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche

The president is about to become embroiled in a scandal only a couple of weeks before the election. Enter Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a political spin doctor who together with a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman), engineers a fake war to distract the public’s attention. Barry Levinson’s satirical comedy says some interesting things about how politicians and the media can change not only the opinions of the populace but their actual knowledge as well. However, the real strength of Wag the Dog is its witty and well-timed banter between Hoffman, De Niro, and a host of great actors in well placed cameos.

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American Hustle (2013) 2.38/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 87.8
Genre: Crime, Gangster
Duration: 138 mins
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

As much as great scripts inspire great performances so do great directors. That we have seen fewer and fewer Stanley Kowalskis, Michael Corleones, and Jake LaMottas in the last 30 years is a testament not necessarily to the lack of great actors but perhaps the lack of great writers and directors or at least the lack of all three elements at the same time. Well fret no longer because 2013’s American Hustle represents as explosive an intersection between all three elements as we’ve witnessed probably since Goodfellas. “Seminal”, “sublime”, “iconic”, “defining” are just some of the superlatives that might swirl through your head while watching David O. Russell’s latest claim to directorial greatness. A near perfect immersion in the era and (partly fictitious) personalities of one of American history’s most infamous sting operations, the ABSCAM operation.

Christian Bale stars as the best conman in America, Irving Rosenfeld, who moves from one small time scam to another always staying off the radar. Amy Adams is the love of his life and partner in con artistry who eventually gets them in trouble when an eccentric FBI agent in the form of Bradley Cooper arrests her and forces the two experts to help him bring down a bunch of corrupt politicians and even the casino backing mobsters. What could go wrong? Well nothing – apart from Irving’s bipolar wife (a hysterical Jennifer Lawrence), a nice guy mayor (a brilliant Jeremy Renner) whom Irving is forced to double cross, and an infamous mobster who takes a dislike to Irving from the start (Robert De Niro in classic form).

The first thing to strike you about this film is its authenticity. Linus Sandgram’s cinematography, Judy Becker’s production design, and Michael Wilkinson’s costume design help largely in setting the era under the auspices of Russell’s urbane vision. Along with the (thankfully) less obvious and excellent source music, Russell channels his sterling cast’s performances through this visual aesthetic and wraps the whole thing up in several quietly impressive innovations in camera angles, editing, and overall narrative construction. The performances are universally meritorious with the five leads rating as exquisite but in different ways to each other. Cooper and Lawrence are wired to the moon with the former doing particularly well in bedding his character’s temperament in a believable personality. It’s a gleefully incendiary turn with a fair dose of humanity to make you feel for him. Lawrence’s character is more extreme in her mania and wasn’t required to play it as close to the ground as Cooper did. She has less screen time than Bale, Cooper, and Adams too but her few scenes are a riot of alcohol-fuelled insecurity-bridging mayhem.

Bale, Adams, and Renner have most of the straight acting to do. Adams is genuinely terrific in imbuing her character with a difficult conflict while Renner shows a charming level of humanity in his clever turn. Bale, on the other hand, does nothing short of deliver the best performance in a gangster movie since De Niro’s Jimmy Conway. From his barely noticeable hunch, his biting attitude, his touching concerns, to the intonations in his Bronx accent, he is simply sublime. The plot hinges on his quality and while Russell arguably spreads the story too thin by spending too little time on him, Bale ties it all together with his understated acting manoeuvres. The only other thing as exciting as watching him work is De Niro’s single scene in which he tantalises us with a powerfully intimidating piece of work that recalls the menace of his very best gangster roles.

At the feet of these acting masterclasses is Russell and Eric Warren Singer’s pitch, tone, and cadence perfect script which from very early on binds us to the principals. Picking up where Pileggi and Scorsese left off, it streams the narrative around not two but three cast narrations. The intimately autobiographical tone of Henry and Karen Hill is very much present but even more tapped in that regard as conversational like pauses become emotional lacunae in which Russell paints a far more intricate picture of personhood. It’s an immensely effective narrative adaptation and it sets the bar for the remainder of the film’s direction.

Intricacy is the key here as themes of friendship, rivalry, passion, fear, and above all, duplicity are brought together in unprecedented manner. It’s dramatic, it’s tense, it’s gripping, and thanks to that searing script, there are some impeccable moments of black humour littered throughout. There’s not much action compared to other gangster classics and both the heartbreak and payoff is more emotional and cerebral than we are used to seeing but the manner in which Russell weaves his tapestry is at times spellbinding. Yes, the story is large in scope and it feels like Bale’s Irving should’ve featured even more centrally than he did and yes, his seems like a persona we are not used to rooting for but, at all times, Russell looks to have an ace up his sleeve. Whether you believe he played it too late or not might be disputed but his timing undisputedly has one hell of an effect. And isn’t that what storytelling is all about?

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Casino (1995) 4.15/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 70.3
Genre: Gangster
Duration: 178 mins
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci

After the success of Goodfellas, everyone was excited about the re-teaming of Scorsese, De Niro, and Pesci (poor old Ray was left at home for this one) for another era-specific film that spanned years in the life of old-school mobsters. This time round, the main focus was on Ace Rothstein (De Niro), an expert handicapper who the mob moved into Las Vegas to run their casinos. Scorsese’s innovative style was perfectly suited to capturing the glitz and dazzle of Vegas in its early years and he contrasts it excellently with the stark violence and drama of the story. Responsible for much of the latter is again Joe Pesci as the enforcer who the mob send out to protect Ace but who quickly grows too big for his boots. The story is somewhat bleaker than Goodfellas as we are never treated to that same sense of family that held much of that film’s first two acts together. Instead, we have Ace’s coke-strung wife (Sharon Stone) playing him for a sap and generally compromising his position at every hand’s turn. At three hours long, Casino covers much ground but never seems rushed with the exception of the early scenes involving Pesci’s violent introduction. De Niro is excellent in the lead and gives us a very different portrayal than we saw in Goodfellas. Pesci is also very good despite the similarity to his Goodfellas role while Stone is tremendous as the devious bomb-shell.

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Once Upon a Time in America (1984) 4.86/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 87.9
Genre: Gangster
Duration: 229 mins
Director: Sergio Leone
Stars: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern

A former prohibition gangster called Noodles (Robert De Niro) is given a mysterious message to return to Brooklyn years after he was forced to flee town. His return triggers some heart felt memories of him and his old friends as they rose from street urchins to mob bosses, a story which seems inevitably connected to the answer he’s now searching for. Although, it’s not as iconic as his Dollars trilogy or as profound a cinematic statement as Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone’s last feature film is arguably his most accomplished directorial effort. He crafts a tale so epic on one hand yet so intricately woven on the other that there’s few if any other directors in the medium’s history who could’ve pulled it off. And threaded throughout are innovations and devices so mesmerisingly effective that one is left breathless and near uncomprehending at how one man can be so imaginative. Add to that some truly seminal acting performances from De Niro and James Woods (as Noodle’s former partner), an outright spellbinding Morricone score, awesome production design, and striking cinematography and we’re talking about one of cinema’s most impressive achievements. As with Once Upon a Time in the West, the dialogue is sparse for long stretches but in its place is a dreamy nostalgia that is as repelling as it is enchanting. It’s not always an easy watch as it gets seriously dark in places but as tales of ambition, greed, power, lust, and guilt go there are few finer than Once Upon a Time in America.

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Ronin (1998) 3.86/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 76.6
Genre: Action, Thriller
Duration: 122 mins
Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone

John Frankenheimer’s thumping actioneer harks back to those gritty European spy movies of the 70′s and is just as enjoyable. Robert De Niro and Jean Reno star as two mercenaries who are hired by a group of terrorists to steal a case from some eastern Europeans who are in negotiations with some nasty Russians. There are many angles to Ronin and many tough characters representing many different concerns. This adds a nice level intrigue to the film that boils over aptly during the action sequences. The action set-pieces themselves are outstanding with a car chase to rival any other thrown in to boot. De Niro does well in what for him was brief return to form during the mid to late 90′s and Jean Reno and Sean Bean are excellent in support.

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Heat (1995) 4.71/5 (5)


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Rating: The Good – 90.4
Genre: Crime
Duration: 170 mins
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer

Heat is Michael Mann’s epic tale of obsession and discipline that focuses on the adversarial relationship between a perfectionist cop (Al Pacino) and a master thief (Robert De Niro). This was the first film to bring the two greatest actors of their generation together on screen and it’s to Mann’s credit that he keeps their meetings brief and few, choosing instead to use the charisma of the two leads to drive their own sides to the story until the inevitable showdown. Heat is an expansive film involving a number of dramatic subplots that are skillfully interwoven into the wider story. It is also Mann’s most stylistic film. His trademark grading and wide-sweeping night-time cityscape shots provide the perfect backdrop to the methodical and exacting behaviour of the police and criminals alike. The immaculate editing and that quietly brilliant Elliot Goldenthal score are as good as you’ll get in any film. The action has rarely been equalled let alone bettered and the now famous street battle remains the most powerfully realistic yet elegantly co-ordinated action sequence ever committed to celluloid (rumour has it that it’s shown in military academies as a text-book example of how to execute an ordered retreat while taking fire).

And then, of course, there’s the cast. Replete with most of Mann’s regulars and led by two of cinema’s icons, they are invariably excellent ensuring that this compelling tale is populated with the most fascinating yet believable of characters. It has become increasingly popular in recent times to criticise Pacino’s highly charged turn as the obsessed cop but those critics would do well to spot the telltale signs of a cocaine addict in that role, a job admittedly made more difficult by the fact that Mann elected to remove any explicit reference to that fact in post production. When taken into consideration, it becomes a performance of serious consequence and alongside De Niro’s equally impressive turn in the more low-key role and under the direction of the great Mann, it helps Heat become the slickest and coolest crime thriller ever made and one that you’ll never get tired of watching.

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Taxi Driver (1976) 4.91/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 93.7
Genre: Crime
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd

This brave examination of a borderline sociopath who becomes increasingly alienated from the world as he sees it from his taxi-cab provides a fascinating and cynical analysis of the thin line between society’s perception of good and evil. The movie opens with Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle, applying for a taxi driving job. Over the next few scenes, we learn just why he wanted the job and how in the long run, it only augments his personal descent. Bickle is not a socially adjusted individual, and he is increasingly incapable of understanding those around him. His initial flirtations with Sybil Shepherd’s prim character Betsy end in disaster when he brings her to a pornographic film because he saw other couples there. Only his encounter with a young child-prostitute played wonderfully by Jodie Foster appears to slow his descent into full madness but in the end it becomes the pretext for his biggest break.

De Niro is stunning in this movie and he makes Bickle his own like few if any actors have made any of their characters. This is not “acting” we’re witnessing but an intuitive realistion of a sociopath’s psyche. And this is the greatest achievement of all when it comes to the cinematic implications for this film, namely, that De Niro, director Martin Scorsese, and writer Paul Schrader were brave enough to lure the audience into Bickle’s mind and to encourage them to root for him. On the directing front, Scorsese’s work here is nothing short of seminal in that Taxi Driver counts as one of the most innovative and conceptually energised movies ever made. However, we should never forget Schrader’s raw and daring screenplay nor the great Bernard Hermann’s mesmerising (and final) score, both of which, were just as important in establishing this film’s place in history as its direction and central performance were.

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The King of Comedy (1983) 4.43/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 79.7
Genre: Comedy, Satire
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott

Robert De Niro turned his head to comedy in this pitch perfect satire of society’s fixation with fame. De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, an eccentric wannabe stand-up comedian who has an unhealthy obsession with celebrities in general and talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) in particular. When it becomes apparent that Langford isn’t going to help Pupkin with his career, he and fellow stalker (Sandra Bernhard) devise a ridiculous scheme to get what each of them want out of life. Directed with the usual visionary panache of Martin Scorsese and with a less familiar De Niro in fine form, this film remains an original, funny, and thought provoking satire. There are echoes of Network, especially in how the movie closes but ultimately The King of Comedy is a much lighter film. The eccentricities are more explicitly rammed home and it’s not as broad in scope. That said, The King of Comedy cuts far deeper than most modern satires and like Network, it has only become more relevant with passing years.

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