Yes, he’s waiting…for a decent script or at least a decent role. Unfortunately, however, he is not lazy, which means that De Niro has made almost 100 films (and we must admit to not having seen all of them). Great film stars manage to accumulate half a dozen classics in their careers and on this scale, Bob is right up there…but what a waste of talent most of the time, and particularly lately.
Actors apparently have to eat and have a nervous imperative to keep working while the luck holds, but there is something a bit sad about the number of performances virtually phoned-in by one of the great screen actors of the past two generations. This sounds like a premature eulogy, but only of a vocation, not a life – and the career isn’t over just yet.
His second top shelf? Mean Streets (1973); The Untouchables (1987); Midnight Run (1988); Awakenings (1990); Heat (1995); Jackie Brown (1997); Ronin (1998).
These second tier movies show intensity but also, increasing range: e.g. the dumb, testy and opportunistic Louis Gara in Jackie Brown and the encephalitic Leonard Lowe in Awakenings.
Honourable Mention: Bang the Drum Slowly (1973); Brazil (1985); The Mission (1986); Angel Heart (1987); Cop Land (1997); Wag the Dog (1997); Great Expectations (1998); Meet the Parents (2000).
But amid all that excellent work, this high talent, in collaboration with other alleged high talents, has spawned material like Jennifer On My Mind (1971); We’re No Angels (1989); Stanley & Iris (1990); Backdraft (1991); and The Fan (1996). His playing as Max Cady in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear (1991) reveals a central dilemma in much of his 1980s and 90s work – after a swag of potent, psychotic roles, where can you go but Over The Top?
The new millennium has not been kind: we have been served up, gulped down, and kept down with no small difficulty, fare such as Showtime (2002); The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2004); Hide and Seek (2005); the ludicrously atrocious Machete (2010) Little Fockers (2010); Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The Big Wedding (2013) and Grudge Match (2013).
But The Varnished Culture honours his best work and his many sterling efforts, which have given us a great deal of pleasure; which can be seen again and again, and are.
We have now seen The Intern (2015). Bob, with an early 1970s executive haircut, is announcing his availability for roles combining Mr Roberts with several Walter Brennan roles (sorry, the only Walter Brennan role, that one role that garnered him 4 Oscars). At least Bob has a range. As the Chorus, in Anne Hathaway’s film that re-asks Professor Higgins’ musical question “Why Can’t a Woman be more like a Man?”, Bob stands on the sidelines, contorting his wise face like Yoda. Why is The Varnished Culture so cruel to Mr De Niro? Because he was worth it.