We all know that Robert DeNiro’s acting career is practically synonymous with the films directed by Martin Scorsese. Films like Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), and Casino (1995) all helped establish Robert DeNiro as a de-facto mafia character actor. While he has used this to his benefit, the acting skills of DeNiro are much more varied than a flat, archetypical Mafioso. And while his career has followed a somewhat similar path to Christopher Walken, in that he had more serious roles earlier in his career, only to now play in more slapstick comedies, both men have been successful in their own rights. This week’s two films highlight some different roles Robert DeNiro has performed apart from the classic mobster roles: from stoic to silly.
The Deer Hunter
Length: 183 minutes / 3.05 hours
The heyday of Robert DeNiro’s career was definitely in the mid-1970’s to early-1980’s. By the time he appeared in The Deer Hunter (1978), he had already won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II (1974). Before he was nominated for Best Actor in the 1978 Best Picture winner, he was also nominated for Best Actor in the aforementioned Taxi Driver (1976). And while he has received nominations for Best Actor in Awakenings (1990) and Cape Fear (1991), as well as Best Supporting Actor in Silver Linings Playbook (2012), his only other win has come through his long-time collaborator, Martin Scorsese. Raging Bull (1980) saw DeNiro acting at his best and Scorsese directing at his best. Still, The Deer Hunter was an important step for Robert DeNiro to eventually claim that gold statue.
The titular Deer Hunter is none other than Mike Vronsky (Robert DeNiro), a young man who lives in Pennsylvania with his two friends, Nick Chebotarevich (Christopher Walken) and Steven Pushkov (John Savage). Mike holds to the hunting mantra of “one shot”, and kills a deer with a single bullet on a hunting trip before the three friends are shipped off to the Vietnam War. Years later, they find themselves in a prison camp where the guards force the prisoners to play Russian roulette. In a risky move, Mike plays a round with three bullets and manages to take down his captors and escape. Another few years pass and Mike finds that Stephen has returned home, but Nick has not. Tracing Nick’s whereabouts, Mike ends up in Saigon right before its fall, finding Nick playing Russian roulette for money. Unfortunately, “one shot” is all it takes to settle things between the two of them.
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours
While some actors can take their craft very seriously, Robert DeNiro seems to have fun with it. Of course, with as many violent and intense films as he has been in, it is refreshing to see him in some minor, bit parts that don’t revolve around the mafia. One such example is that of “Captain Shakespeare” in the 2007 fantasy film, Stardust, wherein the flying pirate puts on a tough exterior for his men while hiding a sensitive, sophisticated, and intelligent inner core. These roles are often funny, playing on DeNiro’s dry comedic timing, no doubt enhanced by the plethora of mobster roles he has had to perform in the past. In the case of Brazil (1985), DeNiro actually wanted a bigger part, but was rebuffed into a smaller role because the character he wanted to play was already promised to a long-time collaborator of the director.
Archibald Tuttle (Robert DeNiro) is a heating engineer who works by his own rules. Unfortunately, this leads to him being labeled as a terrorist by the government. Through a mistake made by a misprinted form, a Mr. Archibald Buttle is taken away and Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is sent to investigate the error. While there, he runs across Jill Layton (Kim Greist), a woman who bears a striking resemblance to the damsel in distress who regularly appears in Sam’s daydreams. It is around this time that Tuttle appears and helps Sam escape two agents from Central Services. Things spiral out of control for Sam as he tries to learn more about Jill. Because of his misuse of his position, Sam is strapped in a chair and tortured by his friend, Jack Lint (Michael Palin) until Tuttle arrives and saves him. Of course, as the film ends, the audience finds that not all was as it seemed.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 delightful DeNiro roles
Bacon #: 1 (Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)