He’s been a raging bull, a mafia don, and the taxi driver of your nightmares. Any movie fan sees Robert De Niro as one of the true icons of Hollywood, a force of nature who has brought his acting prowess to the silver screen for almost half a century.
There were whispers a few years ago that maybe the actor was past his best, following a number of mediocre displays in awful comedy movies, but his performance in The Irishman blew those away.
It’s safe to say there’s life in the old bull yet. And there’s plenty of movies of his to check out if you haven’t already: here are some of those that might have flown under your radar.
De Niro made his name in ‘tough guy’ roles, so it’s fascinating to see him show off his acting range in this movie. He plays a patient who wakes up from a 40-year coma after falling victim to the ‘sleeping epidemic’ of the 1920s.
Based on a true story, the actor delivers a touching performance of someone coming to terms with a new world, if only for a short while. His on-screen partnership with Robin Williams, his doctor in the film, is a joy to watch, and it brought De Niro a nomination for the Oscar for Best Actor of that year, along with two more nominations for the film itself.
A lot of the credit must go to the film’s late director, Penny Marshall, who delivered just the right amount of sentiment to the movie, so that it tugs at the heart-strings without being needlessly hysterical. It’s one to watch on a rainy Sunday, for sure.
The mid 90s were a golden period for the actor. After a stellar performance as a betting expert who cracks down on card counting and cheats in Casino, De Niro transferred his acting talents to mastery of a different kind in Heat.
As master criminal Neal McAuley, the actor excels with a powerful performance opposite fellow movie great Al Pacino. The movie culminates in the famous coffee shop scene where their two characters meet, which is remembered for its magnificent dialogue and acting.
The scene is just one part of a supreme example of movie-making, in which both De Niro and Pacino offer superb portrayals of men seeking a balance between their professional and personal lives on different sides of the law.
Once Upon a Time in America
They say it’s better to go out with a bang, than to fade away. Well, this is what legendary director Sergio Leone did with this four-hour epic.
Set in Prohibition-era America, it depicts the lives of two friends who grow up together to become mobsters in downtown New York. De Niro is at the centre of it all, playing David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson, an extremely complex character. ‘Noodles’ suffers the internal conflict of being a kind, gentle soul who has to carry out acts of mindless brutality – and De Niro expertly portrays this inner turmoil.
Some critics have pointed out the unusually long film duration as being unnecessary, but, considering the length of some of today’s Netflix series, it could be argued that the film does well to fit so many life events into the four hours.
The important conclusion is that De Niro and Leone combine to deliver a glorious finale to the latter’s career – and it saw the actor at the peak of his powers.
For fans of unlikely duos, Midnight Run brings us a bounty hunter and an accountant who are forced to dodge both arrest by the F.B.I and being murdered by the Mob. A crazy, zig-zag journey across the U.S follows, where they have to survive both attempts on their life…and each other’s personality.
No prizes for guessing which character De Niro portrays, although his performance as bounty hunter Jack Walsh is electric along with Charles Grodin, who expertly plays a nervous accountant.
Martin Brest’s movie was seen as a big success and several TV sequels followed that were of a lesser quality, as is often the case. Probably because they didn’t have De Niro or Grodin.
The King of Comedy
Joaquin Phoenix is rightly praised for his terrific portrayal of a delusional comedian in The Joker, but De Niro got there first.
Teaming up once again with Martin Scorsese, the actor delivers a dark performance as an obsessive stalker, who pursues his hero, comedy host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). The film builds to an exciting conclusion, which we won’t go into for fear of giving spoilers – but it’s safe to say that it’s worth waiting for.
While some scenes are slightly uncomfortable to watch, the film still shows a lighter side to De Niro’s acting prowess – a welcome event after his heavy performances in both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
The movie is also darkly funny in places, which means you’ll both chuckle and shake your head at some scenes.
The Deer Hunter
One of the De Niro movies that often gets overlooked is The Deer Hunter. A powerful drama set during the Vietnam War, this was one of the first films to deal with some of its events.
De Niro puts in a fine performance as a veteran coming to terms with the shattering blow the war has on his and his colleagues’ lives. The film won five Oscars for this portrayal, including a nomination for De Niro as Best Actor.
While it has been criticised for some needlessly long scenes, the film is remembered as a classic of its time, and one that showcases De Niro at his best.
So, if you have a few spare hours on a rainy weekend, maybe you should put on a Robert De Niro movie. Whether as a vicious gangster or a coma patient, the veteran actor has spent five decades entertaining us, and looks likely to continue for a while longer.