Where Did It All Go Wrong? The Decline Of Robert De Niro

Darragh McKiernan

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It would be no crime to refer to Robert De Niro as ‘one of the greatest actors of all time’. His portrayal of prizefighter Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, the mentally unstable Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and his two Oscars are just some of the highlights of his long and illustrious career. However, it’s certainly no secret that in recent times, De Niro hasn’t been turning out the most ‘top quality’ content, leaving film lovers the world over pondering where it all went wrong.

Raging Bull

De Niro’s first film role came at the age of 20, when he appeared in Brian De Palma’s 1963 film The Wedding Party. He began to gain popular attention with his role as a dying Major League Baseball player in Bang the Drum Slowly. This landed him a pivotal role the Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather Part II, in which he played the young Vito Corleone, earning his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

He then began the first of his many collaborations with with the legendary Martin Scorsese in 1973, with his role as the small-time criminal ‘Johnny Boy’ in Mean Streets. De Niro went on to have an extremely successful working relationship with Scorsese in films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas.

Along with his portrayal of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, Taxi Driver was of huge importance to De Niro’s career. His iconic performance as Travis Bickle catapulted him to stardom and forever linked his name with Bickle’s famous “You talkin’ to me?” monologue, which De Niro largely improvised.

The Decline

Nowadays, however, fans are no longer leaving cinema screens in awe at the raw power and emotion of De Niro in his performances. Rather, they leave scratching their heads, in awe of De Niro’s decision to continuously involve himself in cinematic blasphemy.

One fan on Twitter even went as far as charting the decline:

 

More recently, De Niro has grown further and further away from playing his trademark intense, violent character and drifted more toward the comedic side, with terrible results.

His role as a gullible stoner in Jackie Brown seemed to set the ball rolling in the mid-90s, with the role as ‘Fearless Leader’ in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Jack Bynres in Meet the Parents causing more confusion in the early 2000s. His more recent role as a horny old age pensioner in Dirty Grandpa seemed like a cry for help. One must ask; what has caused this gradual decline in quality of film?

During an appearance on an episode of the The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast in 2016, Illeana Douglas, who worked with De Niro on Goodfellas and Cape Fear, was asked about his increasingly questionable choices in films as well as starring alongside actors like Zac Efron in the disastrous Dirty Grandpa;

You know, you’re talking about an environment where Marty [Scorsese] made crew members remove their watches. Where, on the set of Cape Fear, De Niro caught somebody looking at their watch and the person is yelled at, because it was like: ‘we are making art’…And it must be very challenging to be in an environment where it’s like ‘Yeah we have an hour, let’s get this shot, let’s get this shot’, and so if nobody else cares, why should you care…And I understand what you mean, it’s as if we’re looking at him for some great example of what he was and I still believe it’s there, I still believe it’s in all of these great actors, but you have to create the environment for them.

 

Others, however, see another side to the story. When asked, James Ursini, author of the biography “Robert De Niro” said;

I think he is more concerned with building an inheritance for his children and grandchildren, with his many real estate investments and huge salaries for his comic roles, particularly enhanced since the success of the execrable ‘Fockers’ series.

Perhaps De Niro simply doesn’t care anymore, what more has he got to prove? That was the attitude of a close associate to De Niro when asked what he thought about the actors decline;

Robert really doesn’t care about critical reception anymore… He knows that he has more than proved himself as a formidable actor.

There may be a glimmer of hope left for Bob yet. According to recent reports, De Niro is in pre-production on a $105m Netflix film called The Irishman. Set to be released in 2019, the mob film will reunite De Niro with Martin Scorsese for the seventh time as well as with Joe Pesci, Al Pacino.

Going simply on the premise and cast alone it seems promising. Let’s hope it can deliver, for De Niro’s sake.

 

 

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Darragh McKiernan