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January 06, 2011


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I know you don't hold this opinion, but the very idea that any movie De Niro makes now could be unforgivable really infuriates me. He could do nothing but shit from now on, and it would be none of our business -- he owes us nothing, and we've already gotten so much.

I used to be really self-righteous about the concept of selling out (as if I had anything to sell out to or from), but a big turning point was seeing Bob Dylan interviewed on 60 MINUTES, and whoever did the story brought up the Victoria's Secret ad Dylan did. His response was a blank-faced "Should I not have done that?" Touche'.

Glenn Kenny

Actually, Bill, I do not disagree, and that's why I tried to choose the words that I put around the U-word carefully, to wit: "As ostensibly unforgivable we may believe the likes of 'Hide And Seek,' '15 Minutes,' 'Righteous Kill' and other too-numerous De Niro duds have been, we can't help but believe that he still has a few more rabbits to pull from his hat to awe us with." Admittedly, the royal "we" is a bit of rhetorical fancy dancing. I meant the key word to be "believe," really. And personally, I'm with you—I don't think DeNiro OWES anybody anything. And I think I make clear that I believe he's still got valuable goods to bestow, if he so chooses. That said, the pictures I cited are not very good. As for Dylan's Victoria's Secret ad, I rather enjoyed it.


A work colleague told me he preferred the De Niro of Meet the Fockers to his 70s movies, still trying to work out if that is intended as a side-swipe because he overhead me scoffing at his championing of Steinbeck as the GAN.


Well, I did say "I know you don't hold this opinion", and meant it to mean that you don't find anything he does now "unforgivable", but I see now that it comes across as meaning the opposite. Oops! Sorry about that.

Otherwise, yes. I haven't seen most of the films you cited, actually, because while I do still revere De Niro, I also don't feel the need to see films that he's in that I don't want to see just because he's in them. I did see HIDE AND SEEK, and it's not good, I agree. Still, *he* wasn't bad, until they forced him to act the twist, which was awful. Up to that point, though, he was playing a regular guy, a regular dad, which I think he's actually really good at, and it's probably -- for all I know -- not that easy to do.

And MIDNIGHT RUN is a really interesting film in his career. I absolutely love it, and I think his performance is sort of a dead-pan master class. It's a shame that the directors who have cast him in comedies since then haven't wanted to plumb that well. The scene between him and Grodin that ends with De Niro saying "Here's two words for you: Shut the fuck up" is about as funny as anything I've seen in a film since I've been watching them.

Glenn Kenny

@ Bill: D'oh!

Okay, then. So onward with the love fest! Yes, that "Midnight Run" stuff is pretty damn awesome. It's easy to forget just how much fun that picture is, I guess partially because of the slew of awful imitations that still follow in its wake (which isn't to say that the premise of "Run" was completely original to begin with, but hell, I haven't got all day here). And while DeNiro had certainly been funny in prior pictures, it really did take some imagination and guts, at least by industry standards, to cast him in comic role at that point in time. Just one of those things that really makes you wonder, "What HAPPENED to Martin Brest, anyway?..."

Adam K

And now he's heading up the next Cannes jury: http://www.imdb.com/news/ni6677379/


Glenn, your Martin Brest question is one of the great unknowables. He's had one of the stranger Hollywood careers.

MIDNIGHT RUN also contains one of the few film scores by Danny Elfman that doesn't sound like Danny Elfman wrote it. But that's neither here nor there. What's more relevant is that in that film, De Niro -- a master at swearing on film -- is swearing at the top of his game. Like, he's the only one who really knows how to say those words.


Here's another bit of trivial MIDNIGHT RUN detritus:

The movie came out when I was just a lad, and it's a movie I fell instantly in love with. So in love -- and please consider my youth -- that I bought the novelization (do those things still exist?) which, if memory serves, and I think it does, was written by George Gallo, the film's screenwriter. I never made it very far in that book, though, because I was alarmed and confouded to learn that the main thing missing from it were all the jokes. The only part I remember is from the very beginning, when Jack Walsh has just caught the guy who tried in the film (can't remember if this was in the book) to blow off Jack's head with a shotgun. He takes him to the police station, and in the film the clerk asks Walsh if the guy gave him any trouble. Jack asks the guy "Did you give me any trouble?" and the guy says "Man, fuck you!", to which Walsh responds with a shrugging "Well, hey" kind of gesture. In the film it's very funny. In the book, Walsh feels bad for the guy, and as he's being led away Gallo has him think "Good luck, pal", or something like that. It was appalling! As you can imagine!

Anyway, Gallo also came up recently in what I thought was a very interesting interview at the AV Club with Jon Lovitz. Lovitz has only nice things to say about everybody from Nicolas Cage to Madonna to Jerry Bruckheimer. Prior to that interview, the only person I've ever heard Lovitz speak badly of is Andy Dick. After that interview, it's Andy Dick and George Gallo. Coincidence???


Two more things about MIDNIGHT RUN, for me; one, imagine if Robin Williams had gotten Charles Grodin's part instead. Two, unlike almost every other comedy DeNiro has done since, it doesn't depend on him putting a comic spin on his persona (maybe not WAG THE DOG). He plays it straight here, and yet it's really funny (and yes, his facility with profanity is especially amazing here). I wish he'd do more comedies like that.

As far as whether DeNiro "owes" anybody anything; well, I can't disagree with anything you've said, and I also think, if he wants, he can make another one or two good movies as director (as I'm one of those who think THE GOOD SHEPHERD was one of the best movies of the year it came out). On the other hand, it's still painful to me to think DeNiro and Pacino together went from GODFATHER II to HEAT to...RIGHTEOUS KILL?


Let me just say right up front, "Mean Streets" changed my life.

Robert DeNiro was the guy who inspired me to become an actor. And as it's been pointed out, he owes us nothing for he has given us all so much, for which I'm grateful.

That being said, I wish the man would be a bit more selective in the work he chooses to do. While I'm jazzed about the possibility of him teaming up with Scorsese, Pacino and Pesci, in "The Irishman", I get a little low knowing he's in Garry Marshall's , "New Year's Eve".

Then again, in one movie he'll be in a cage with lions and tigers while in the other movie he'll be in a cage with canaries.

And for a guy pushing 70, that ain't too bad.

Carry on.

Chris O.

lipranzer, you're not alone on "The Good Shepherd." Aafter not fully processing it after the first viewing (though still liking it) I found myself watching much of it several times (like "Psycho" or "Pulp Fiction") if, say, I was flipping through the channels and came across it. I remember reading they were wanting to do a follow-up but who knows if it'll ever come to pass. Would like to see De Niro back in the director's chair sooner than later, nonetheless.


@Jimmy and lipranzer - I wish the same things you guys wish. It's just -- and I know you know this -- we can't *demand* it. The other thing about De Niro that a lot of people say these days, as if they had any sort of authority, is that he's "tarnishing his legacy". Well, no he isn't. His legacy is movies like TAXI DRIVER. That's what will survive, not ANALYZE THAT, and that's his legacy.

I never really tuned in with THE GOOD SHEPHERD, and found myself easily distracted from it. As a result, I guess I have no comment, although I will say that the bit on the plane with the girl on the end really made me feel sick. Which is a compliment. I couldn't even say what led to it, or the context, but just the idea of it, and the way De Niro and the actors handled it, really horrified me.


This guy already said it, so I don't have to:

"It's incredible to think that the once-monumental Robert De Niro has now effetively become the Syd James of America."



Oh, please. It's like we all loaned Robert De Niro a hundred bucks and he paid us back with a punch in the nuts. He's still monumental. He achieved monumentality ages ago. And it's his life to live as he pleases, and always has been. It's just another excuse to be negative and act as though the universe has ripped us off.


Believe me bill, my air of hopeless negativity needs or requires no excuses.


It's his life to live as he pleases, certainly. By the same token I'm also free to say that his name on a marquee once meant quality and now means the reverse and it's a shame. Nobody would begrudge De Niro a few moneymakers, but he phoned it in for one dud too many for this viewer long ago.

The Good Shepherd for all its flaws was certainly one of the most interesting movies of the year.


To avoid the risk of overstating things more than I perhaps already have, I'll move on. I'm just glad I have TAXI DRIVER, KING OF COMEDY, and so on, on DVD at home, to watch whenever the mood strikes.


Bobby D died after making Heat/Casino. FACT!!!

(not to get all LexG up in here)

Chris O.

"I never really tuned in with THE GOOD SHEPHERD, and found myself easily distracted from it."

I would recommend giving it another chance, if you have the time to kill. As I said, I liked it but it really grew on me with subsequent viewings. (And, sure I'm slow, but it only recently occurred to me the similarities of Damon's performance here with his turn as Mr. Ripley.)

warren oates

THE GOOD SHEPHERD is laudable for its ambition, better than most actor-directed fare and yet still far short of what it should have been -- a kind of GODFATHER-like origin story of the modern CIA. Robert Littell did a much better job with the same type of thing in his big novel THE COMPANY. (Stay away from the godawful TV film of that.)


Warren, I'd be more willing to take up your THE COMPANY recommendation if I hadn't read Littell's THE SISTERS. A crushing disappointment, as it had been praised to the heavens years before it was reprinted, and my hopes were quite high.

warren oates

@Bill, you can't go wrong with THE DEFECTION OF A.J. LEWINTER or THE COMPANY. At polar opposites of the genre. His first book and his biggest. Both gripping spy yarns. And LEWINTER is actually hilarious too. And just as innovative a twist on the defection thriller in its own little way as, say, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.


I like Robert Littell as well, and "The Company," but I would say THE GOOD SHEPHERD is more akin to, say, "Harlot's Ghost."


Some of the best actors don't really seem to care about their choice of roles, e.g. Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Nicholas Cage, Gene Hackman (and I haven't seen all 225 of Michel Piccoli's, but it's statistically almost certain that there's a fair share of bad films among them) - maybe they like the money, but I would guess they have enough and just love to act.

Tom Carson

I know I'll get in trouble for this, but the unconsidered given that bugs me in the whole, very silly 'tarnishing his legacy' idea is the premise that De Niro is the Ultimate Genius Actor of Our Lifetime. He isn't; he's a formidable actor inside a range more limited than not only Olivier's (for sure), but -- quite conceivably -- Jack Lemmon's. The way he influenced a generation or two of epigones to equate greatness with intensity and treat giving the audience pleasure as evidence of a cheap soul has made him one of the banes of my moviegoing life. That he treated and still treats comedy as a lesser art -- even when embracing it -- would horrify the sweet shade of Cary Grant, one of his obvious betters.


Nice to see some love for The Good Shepherd, but it should be noted that the theatrical cut was different from what De Niro had intended. He's mentioned a longer director's cut in interviews but god knows if that will ever come out.

I know many found it slow, but I still feel that added material would only benefit what's already there (which is mostly great).


Then there was his SNL hosting stint the other week -- well, maybe the less said about that the better. Dirty dancing in drag with P. Diddy maybe sounds funnier than it plays.

Jason Melanson

@Tom Carson, although I don't necessarily agree with your characterization of De Niro as having a "limited" range, I do think you are hitting on something interesting, which is this false dichotomy between "naturalistic" acting styles and acting styles that are deemed "less" naturalistic. This is a distinction which has always driven me nuts. And there is a whole generation of moviegoers who now look back at a lot of old films and talk about how "unrealistic" the performances are. Cary Grant may possibly be the greatest actor the American cinema has ever had, but for a lot of younger film watchers great acting didn't begin until Brando.

I really enjoy the acting style of De Niro and his contemporaries, and many of his descendants, Sean Penn, Edward Norton etc... but it is not the only acting style. And it is an acting style that is not very realistic at all, see Sean Penn in Carlito's Way for a perfect example of the stylization of his acting style. And it is this false classification of the Method Acting style that leads people to label performances that fall outside of that style as bad. Jack Nicholson in The Shining being a good example of this, although he is a Method Actor, that is clearly not a performance delivered in that style, and many critics at the time saw Nicholson's extreme stylization as a bad performance.

Sorry for all of my rambling and taking up so much space, I guess my point is that I don't have a problem with the Method style of acting, but people need to stop thinking in terms of: Method=Naturalism, Realism, and any other style=lack of realism. It's not about naturalism or realism for me, it's about actors being truthful to the material and doing it justice.

Also, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog Mr. Kenny. This is my first time commenting, I admit to having a sensitive ego so I do not usually partake in discourse online, and I just wanted to say how much I value your writing. I also wanted to say thanks for turning me on to The Story of Marie and Julien, not just because it's a brilliant film in and of itself, but I have been going back and watching a lot of Rivette films, which has been one of those "How did I not know about the brilliance of these films before" kind of experiences.

Joel Henry

Another longtime lurker here, chiming in to second Jason's thanks for recommending The Story of Marie and Julien. And while I'm at it, thank you bill for suggesting Pleasure Party as a good left-field place to start on Chabrol. Those were my two great filmmaker discoveries of 2010.


I agree, Jason. I always find it amusing when people who think Bette Davis or Cary Grant aren't "real" enough seem to be blind to the Method hamminess of certain contemporary actors. And it kills me when capital-A Acting shoves subtlety aside come awards season. It's a miracle when a performance like Robert Forster's in JACKIE BROWN, for instance, lands an Oscar nod.

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