April 2022 Viewing Diary

When I first got the Raging Bull gig, I began a re-watch of all the Scorsese-De Niro movies – at least the ones clustered around that period. I grew up on these films. These movies were huge to me as a young and hungry actor: I didn’t “watch” De Niro so much as I “studied” him. My friends shared this experience. I was reminiscing with David about it, and he said, “De Niro was EVERYTHING.” Yup. He was the Best: and he was worthy of study. It’s a strange feeling: these movies are like well-grooved highways in my spirit and psyche: I know them so well, I know every breath, every pause, every transition … they’ve already been picked over by yours truly. And yet, they never get old. So I immersed myself in Raging Bull,Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy … and then re-watched Goodfellas, Casino, The Irishman … all of them. Then I would loop back to Raging Bull, just to keep my eye on the ball. It was a very engrossing couple of months. You clear the deck for an assignment like this. And it’s hard to just DROP IT when you pass in your first draft. So I didn’t drop it. I decided to do a chronological re-watch of De Niro’s entire filmography. I am still doing it now. I’m going to watch the clunkers too, because even the clunkers have things to teach us. It’s all been strangely emotional, since – again – his performances were like the Holy Grail to us in college, where we would pick him apart, and analyze his hand gestures, or a pause he took – I know all of these films so damn well. I think the first Scorsese movie I actually saw in a movie theatre – in its first run – was either Last Temptation of Christ or Goodfellas. Anyway. It’s fun to walk down this memory lane and remind myself – not that I need reminding – just how special he is. How WEIRD. He’s weird, people. Don’t get it twisted. There’s no other career like his, and that’s not just because he’s a great actor. I have a theory about him and it’s hard to say it without sounding like I’m making some kind of judgment. But I’m not. I’ve met De Niro a couple of times at Actors Studio events, non-gala affairs in other words, with a chummy atmosphere (although I’ve met him at the NYFCC awards nights a couple of times too). He is just like what everyone says: shy and quiet. Not standoffish. Just quiet. Not the center of attention. It’s like he’s an accountant who wandered into an Oscars party. (There’s a reason that he’s so good at playing schlubby civil-servant-types – in his later years. That “vibe” is very close to him.) Behind closed doors, and among friends, I am sure he is many other things – of course – but he’s not a good enough liar to “put on” a public face. Watch an interview with him. It’s like pulling teeth. He’s cautious. He’s also just plain old shy. He doesn’t like to seem like he thinks he’s important. He underplays. He undersells. He’s awkward. It’s honest awkwardness. Endearing. So my theory is: De Niro, as a person, does not have a strong or dominating personality. Al Pacino DOES have a very strong personality (just by contrast). And so: because De Niro’s general personality is not all that strong, he has less in the way when he goes about his transformations. And his transformations wildly swing both ways: he can be reserved and quiet, he can be raging and manic, he can also be an extrovert. It’s FASCINATING especially to watch him play extroverts – because you know that that is not his natural personality (in fact, it’s the opposite). But watch him play an extrovert and you would totally think that that was his natural personality. He’s EERIE. But my theory is: he has less in the way, he has less natural tendencies than other people – although things like anger are obviously at close range always – and so he is much more able to slip into the shoes of someone else, no problem. Research helps give him “permission” to be someone else (he talks about this a lot – having to “earn the right” to play someone. This speaks to his empathy.

It’s like every movie he makes he looks at as a biopic, even if he’s not playing a real person). You don’t think of movie stars having “blah” personalities. In fact, it almost never happens. But it’s happened with him. I think it’s the key to his magic. There’s more to say about all of this. He is the FREEST of actors because his ego is nonexistent and he also has no desire to “express himself”. None. He’s up to something else. He is a shy awkward quiet man and so he has more SPACE in him than other people do – and in that space is creativity. He can BE more people than other actors can be. He has nothing to hold onto in THIS world, and so he can fully engage in the fictional world. He has left no hand-holds behind him in the “real” world so he can find his way back. He doesn’t need them. He’s perfectly fine. He has made three movies a year since the early 70s. People who get irritated at his output – how he’s ruining his legacy or whatever, by appearing in (and producing) dumb movies … don’t really understand him. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his legacy. Of course he does. But he cares MORE about working. About opening up the crack in a character, squeezing through the crack, and discovering all that SPACE on the other side of reality, way more space than he has (or needs) in the “real” world.

So. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past two months.

1900 (1976; d. Bernardo Bertolucci)

My God, this movie is gorgeously shot, and my God, this movie is a bore. I first saw this movie on VHS tape back in high school, and the dazzling beauty of so many of these shots left a mark. Bertolucci’s camera roves and floats and moves, a living entity. De Niro and Dominique Sanda are so gorgeous together it almost hurts to look at them. The whole Socialist aspect of 1900 – which was the main point – is so heavy-handed the movie feels like a re-education camp. Sterling Hayden, whom I love … but here, he has to be one note – and the contrast between the weak elites and the muscular macho peasants … the women standing on the hay wagons, waving red banners … I don’t know, man. It all seems a little bit silly and naive. I’m cynical. And I’m happy to be so. I don’t believe in Utopia on Earth. In fact, I’m afraid of anyone who claims they know the secret to creating a Utopia on Earth. Utopia for one person is Tyranny for another. Nope. HOWEVER. Every single shot is a work of art.

The Bubble (2022; d. Judd Apatow)

I reviewed Judd Apatow’s meta-latest for Ebert.

Babi Yar. Context. (2022; d. Sergei Loznitsa)

I’d been wanting to see this and finally caught it at the Film Forum. It’s crushing. I went to a matinee and walking back out into the late afternoon sun was jarring. The Babi Yar atrocity is haunting enough to even read about … but to see all this footage … The Nazis documented everything. They were PROUD of what they were doing. Otherwise, why record every second of it? It’s an absolutely horrifying film, made up entirely of existing footage, with no narration, or talking heads … it’s “found footage” for real. Very difficult to watch. Very important.

The Dropout (2022; d. Michael Showalter, Francesca Gregorini, Erica Watson)

Amanda Seyfried, yo! I’ve always liked her – since Mean Girls – and this is her best, and I’m so psyched. She’s a dead ringer for that looney-tunes-bitch, and her mimicry of that VOICE is uncanny. But what’s better than the surface trappings is her exploration of the void underneath all that, the drive, the mania, the … sheer weirdness of this woman. I really liked the series and I’m super impressed with Seyfried’s performance. Good for her. OH, and I am pleased to say she had a number of really good mirror moments (one of my obsessions).

The Last Tycoon (1976; d. Elia Kazan)

Mainly fascinating because of the Kazan-De Niro collaboration – and so I’m just happy that that occurred, even though the movie is a very strange one. Such a great cast. Dana Andrews! Theresa Russell! Anjelica Huston in a small part.

Aline (2022; d. Valérie Lemercier)

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. I reviewed Aline for Ebert.

True Confessions (1981; d. Ulu Grosbard)

Written by Joan Didion and John Griffin Dunne! With Charles Durning. De Niro and Duvall as brothers doesn’t make much sense visually but it’s so satisfying as an audience member to watch these two great actors together. They could have swapped parts too. Both of them are versatile enough it would work either way. De Niro’s transformations are subtle, unlike, say, Meryl Streep’s. He’s as much transformed in something like this as he is in The Untouchables. He doesn’t make a big deal out of it. Subtle transformations are the hardest. They don’t win Oscars. What wins Oscars are the BIG transformations (like his Oscar for Awakenings). This goes back to what I was saying at the outset. De Niro has less “in the way” to dispatch, in terms of his own natural personality – gestures, voice, behavior. He’s a quiet solemn shy man. So he basically has more space to play around in when he goes to create a character. He doesn’t HAVE to put on a big show of accents and hair and gestures in order to “make us forget” that he is De Niro. Because …. who IS De Niro? An awkward shy man. lol He just has way more freedom than other people do because he has less invested in a specific persona or even personality.

New York New York (1977; d. Martin Scorsese)

This one is not stream-able. And I don’t own it. You can’t find it anywhere. So, fuck it, I resorted to unsavory practices in order to keep my re-watch intact chronologically. There is no reason for this movie to be three hours long. HOWEVER, with people like Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro – in every single scene – I don’t see any reason to complain. It’s a gold mine. It’s fascinating to watch this because here De Niro plays an extrovert, a chatterbox – that opening scene where he moves from woman to woman, with these crazy come-on lines, trying to pick someone up – and it’s so natural, you would think that that’s who De Niro really is. And who knows, maybe it IS. That’s what I’m SAYING. We just don’t KNOW. Minnelli is heartbreaking and wonderful in this. It’s beautifully shot. This was 1977. Everyone was doing so much coke. Everything was about to get really ugly and really bad for Scorsese, who almost died. Robert De Niro “brought him back to life” by insisting they finally make Raging Bull. There were a lot of bloated over-long movies in the late 70s. Cocaine was a factor.

The Deer Hunter (1978; d. Michael Cimino)

One of the great Vietnam movies, but the more I watch it – I’ve probably seen it 10 times – the more surreal it seems. It’s different than other Vietnam movies. It’s a very strange movie. I love it for its strangeness. It’s “opener” is half the movie: the lead up to the wedding and then the wedding. Then smash-cut to Vietnam and Russian roulette. It’s not realistic: Cimino doesn’t lead you from Pennsylvania to Vietnam. He tosses you in. Russian roulette is the Symbol to end all symbols. I guess once it gets into you – once you submit to its chanciness and riskiness – real life can’t compete. (I always forget, somehow, that when Christopher Walken stumbles into the Russian roulette room back in Saigon – De Niro is already there. So … although everyone remembers Walken’s submission to the Russian roulette sub-culture, it’s important to remember that De Niro feels it too. He’s IN THAT ROOM, willingly.) Such great acting and it makes you wonder how on earth they pulled it off. It doesn’t look staged. It feels as horrifying as it must have felt to live it.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984; d. Sergio Leone)

Everyone knows what was done to this movie by the crum-bums at the Studio/distribution level, hacked it up for the American release. Americans saw the shortened version. The “butchered” version. I knew about this, even back then, because of Roger Ebert’s piece about it. When the full version was finally made available, he wrote about that too.

Falling In Love (1984; d. Ulu Grosbard)

I can look at this realistically and see everything that’s wrong with it. I think what was interesting to the team was to create a love story where everyone in it is a normal person, without eccentricities. To put Love into the most everyday context possible. (Well. Both characters are clearly loaded, so there’s THAT.) It’s hard to get “invested” in these two getting together because … what are they falling in love with? Who ARE they? What’s the bond? WHERE IS THE BOND? The sheer number of coincidences that have to take place in order for them to keep running into each other is also a problem. However: I first saw this in college – on VHS tape. What is interesting to a young actor is to watch these two actors listen and talk. (The most basic definition of acting is “listening and talking”. If you can’t do THAT, find another profession.) De Niro and Streep knew that the script was thin, that they were not required to create big characters here, that all they needed to do was “listen and talk”. It’s a master class in listening and talking. Actors: you can learn from this movie. Watch them. Their dialogue is irrelevant and neither of these boring characters ever say anything worth listening to. It’s not about that. Watch the actors: watch how they listen and talk. There’s also a scene where Streep talks with her dad, and as she talks with him, she takes an orange out of a bowl, rolls it between her hands, and then begins to peel it. All as she talks. I’m 18, 19 years old, watching this – and I had no idea what she was saying, and I didn’t care: I was RIVETED by the orange behavior. THAT’S how you use “business”. “Business” is almost as important as “listening and talking”. I learned so much from watching that scene. Reality isn’t about your emotional truth. If all you have is emotional truth, then you don’t have all that much. If you feel lost, if you feel stuck, if you feel like you have nothing to hold onto in a scene, pick up a nearby orange, and start doing to the orange what you would do to it in normal life – and POOF, the scene – and you – come alive. Trust me. I can’t tell you how many times I “created” orange-peeling business (or something like) just to ground a scene in reality. This is one of the first times De Niro played a schlubby suburban type and he’s very good at it. Hard to picture Pacino as a schlubby suburban type. This is not either/or – I’m not saying one is bad and one is good. It’s so frustrating that I even have to say this. This is compare and contrast, old-school. I’m using Pacino as an example to highlight De Niro’s unique qualities. Human beings are not interchangeable. Both are great actors, but in very different ways.

Brazil (1985; d. Terry Gilliam)

I saw this in the movie theatre, at the Jane Pickens in Newport (where I just went to see The General, and interview Dana Stevens about her Buster Keaton book). I have to admit this movie doesn’t quite delight me like it did on first viewing, but still, it’s a fun one. I still remember back then how weird it seemed – how exciting – that De Niro would do a cameo, where he would be funny and broad, where he wasn’t the center. We, as college kids, were like, “Oh wait … that’s allowed?? You can DO that? That’s so cool!!”

Dual (2022; d. Riley Stearns)

This was a little disappointing. I reviewed for Ebert.

Angel Heart (1987; d. Alan Parker)

My friend David and I went to go see this at the Showcase Cinema in Warwick, RI, and then went out to Bickfords in Cranston and talked about it until 2 in the morning. A legendary night in our friendship. We were so turned ON by it, and Mickey Rourke … MICKEY ROURKE. We were so steeped in 1970s movies, and our idols were Boomers. Pacino. De Niro. Pesci. Streep. But here was someone new … older than us, and still a Boomer, yes, but a young Boomer, closer to us in age. He felt much more like he was OURS. (Same with River Phoenix, although he was on the other end of the age spectrum.) If you grow up, like we did, immersed in the recent past – the way Gen X kids were – then a so-called “peer” coming along, who rivaled your idols, was THRILLING. We were absolutely blown away. And, again, like with Brazil, it was so thrilling to us that De Niro was showing up in movies, playing small roles, and obviously having a blast. These are not subtle performances. His range seemed to get even bigger.

The Untouchables (1987; d. Brian de Palma)

Saw this one in the theatre. Also at the Showcase, with a huge group of college friends. I remember Mitchell saying, “That train scene was clearly taken from Battleship Potemkin” which .. blew my mind, since I hadn’t seen Battleship Potemkin and also had never heard of it. I remember very clearly all of us falling in love with Andy Garcia. Murmuring amongst ourselves: “Who is THAT?” Star quality. Instantly apparent.

Jackknife (1989; d. David Hugh Jones)

I saw this one in the theatre. I am going to keep saying that. This was when I first really sat up and took notice of Ed Harris. I had seen Sweet Dreams and The Right Stuff, and so I knew who he was, but this one blew me away. Again, in the context of a young girl obsessed with acting, obsessed with studying it … Harris here is outstanding. It was way further out than Sweet Dreams or The Right Stuff. I fell in love with this movie, and it’s been years since I’ve seen it. It was so much fun re-discovering it! It’s streaming on Amazon, but the quality is really poor. This film is in need of a restoration. I bought a copy of it, because I fear it will be lost to me otherwise. If it stops streaming, then it might as well have never existed, and I can’t stand that. Physical media is important. This is the kind of movie “they” don’t make anymore. A character study. A three-way character study. Kathy Baker, De Niro and Ed Harris … you basically just get to know these three people over the course of the film. If I’m not mistaken it was a play. De Niro here is extroverted – again – and funny – but all of that is there as a survival technique and a “cover”. The romance with Kathy Baker is so INTERESTING. It’s middle-aged tentative love. Two people who have been hurt by life, damaged – irrevocably in some cases. But all is not lost. You can love someone with what has been left behind after all the damage done to you. And Harris is just heartbreaking. I love this movie. And this is why I’ve done a chronological re-watch. I need these movies in my life again.

We’re No Angels (1989; d. Neil Jordan)

I saw this one in the theatre. It’s funnier now than it seemed to me then. The funniest parts of it, for me, is the shared behavior of Penn and De Niro as they try – clumsily – to keep up their act. The murmuring nonsensical Latin, the hunched-over praying postures, the sudden looks of total PANIC at some Catholic ritual they’re supposed to participate in … Some of De Niro’s transitions made me laugh out loud. The sudden flashes of panic, of horror, mixed with a constant low-level grumpiness … No one is grumpier than a grumpy De Niro. John C. Reilly! Had no idea at the time that he would rise to the level he would, thanks to Boogie Nights. He’s very touching here.

Stanley & Iris (1990; d. Martin Ritt)

Saw this one in the theatre. Another gem. I haven’t seen this one in years. When people talk about De Niro ruining his legacy, blah blah blah, they discount performances like this one. Or the one in Jackknife. Or even Falling in Love. He’s not making a big SHOW of his transformations. He’s not trying to impress you. He’s not “in it” for that reason. And so … people who love being blown away are sometimes only blown away by the most showy and obvious display of transformational power. Like I said before, it’s the subtle transformations that are the hardest. Here, he makes Stanley make sense. He does not condescend. The way he eventually makes his case to Iris – basically; “You and I are bound to be together. It’s going to happen. Can’t we get past some of these things that are between us?” – it’s such a real-guy way of dealing with romance. It’s not some intense idealized thing, or some tear-streaked “STELLAAAAA” howl of passion. Which I’m sure De Niro could do as well, although … love stories like that aren’t really his thing. Again, like Jackknife, like Falling in Love, the main pleasure here is watching these two actors work together. It’s lovely.

Stanleyville (2022; d. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos)

I reviewed for Ebert.

Awakenings (1990; d. Penny Marshall)

Saw this in the theatre. It wrecked me. It still wrecks me. This was a time when it was seen as pretty wild that Robin Williams could play a shy awkward man. The most extroverted and expressive and manic-paced comics could believably be this human-phobic nerdy guy. It was a real revelation! Penny Marshall knows how to work on the emotions, it is true, but the story has so much inherent drama and pathos that all you really have to do is show up and the story works on you. The great Ruth Nelson – from the Group Theatre back in the 1930s – plays De Niro’s mother!

Shattered Glass (2003; d. Billy Ray)

A favorite. Allison and I watched it. It took us three hours because we had to keep pausing to discuss, and to look things up. We love Steve Zahn so much.

WeCrashed (2022; d. Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Cory Finley, Tinge Krishnan, Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini)

Allison and I binge-watched this. I thought it was really good and really interesting. I’m not a Jared Leto fan, normally, but I think he does some really good work here, as does Anne Hathaway (although she was inconsistent with her vocal choices. Sometimes “the voice” was there, sometimes it wasn’t). I have read a couple articles criticizing the series for being “too soft” on these two wack-jobs. Well, the purpose of the series wasn’t to paint them as villains. The purpose of the series was to explore the weird intense bond they shared and how that bond – two narcissists pumping each other up – helped create this monster company. They were like one being, who together were dangerous and power-hungry and awful … but … what was going on between them behind closed doors? Who ARE these two people? That’s far more interesting than painting them as villains and then focusing mostly on the workers who were screwed by them. It’s more interesting AND it’s more dramatic. You felt the cost, you definitely felt the cost, but it’s the reality distortion field of the relationship that’s most fascinating. OR, it was most fascinating to the creators of the series. They aren’t “giving them a pass”. There are plenty of articles out there that tell the story of WeWork and don’t “give them a pass”. There’s a documentary about We Work that doesn’t “give them a pass”. Ugh. Cultural critics who want everything to be presented in a black and white morally-correct way are such a bore. They want art to be binary and boring and clear to read. I thought it was so interesting to watch how wrapped up in each other these two really were – and how awful they both were to their employees, even as they blathered on about “raising the world’s consciousness” through …….. renting office space? GIMME A BREAK.

Anais in Love (2022; d. Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet)

I reviewed for Ebert.

Guilty by Suspicion (1991; d. Irwin Winkler)

I saw this one in the theatre! Patricia Wettig, riding high on thirtysomething fame, and her Emmy. It’s a very good depiction of the HUAC activities, as well as the Blacklist era. The role doesn’t require much transformation on the part of De Niro. I respect him for not prioritizing huge physical transformations. That’s not what acting is about for him. If it’s required, then he does it. If it’s not required, he doesn’t do it. The transformation is not physical: it happens at a deeper more cellular level. What’s interesting here is to watch him be a man who’s really behind, who’s slow to catch on, who’s surprised at every turn, surprised and hurt, by what is happening. He’s confused, he’s desperate, he’s baffled, he’s scared. This requires openness and lack of self-consciousness. He just has to be open to the disaster unfolding all around him. He has to feel it happening. He has to feel his own helplessness to stop it. This film should be much better known.

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12 Responses to April 2022 Viewing Diary

  1. José Gabriel Ferreras says:

    Sheila, first time contributor, long time admirer of your work (since I discovered your favorite uplifting movies thoughts on Blue Crush, I believe it was). Just wanted to add a little something about De Niro that I think is often overlooked when talking about him but seems very clear to me every time I watch his films. That is his generosity as and zero vanity as an actor: the way he is in the moment in every scene seems to be there, in many ways, to make it easier for his co-actors to relax and to showcase their talents as well, which is all in benefit for the picture overall. The better they all are, the better the film, and he seems to me to go to great lenghts to make his co-stars feel at ease and able to shine as well. He not only never seems afraid of being overshadowed but I can even picture him being happy when and if this happens. Keep up the great job, Sheila, many people are the better for it!

    • Bill Wolfe says:

      I think a good example of what you’re describing is in Mad Dog and Glory. Bill Murray had the showier role and did a great job with it. I have to believe that DeNiro recognized this early in the film’s shooting and accepted it gracefully – probably even gladly – because he knew if Murray did well, the movie would be all the better. If that meant DeNiro would in essence have a supporting role, then he was fine with that.

      • José Gabriel Ferreras says:

        Yes! I believe that could also apply to The Irishman and his dynamic with Pacino, but really to the work in general with all his co-stars. Those who have worked with him always seem to comment on that, his generosity of spirit. Also, he seems to me very intelligent about choosing the roles he can play, about discerning which kind of roles would be a better fit for his talents. Not to imply he’s afraid of departing his comfort zone, on the contrary, he’s looking forward to doing that, as in evidence in those examples. But I think being able to identify your strenghts and weaknesses as an actor is a gift, and an important one to have when trying to build a career. Even when he’s doing it for the paycheck, he’s always seemed to me so intelligent about that as well.

      • sheila says:

        // he knew if Murray did well, the movie would be all the better. //

        Yes. He didn’t need to throw his weight around and try to dominate. Especially since Murray basically had the “De Niro role” – in sensibility, and context. The Mob guy! De Niro was so believable though as this shy schlub! Telling Glory he needed to do sit-ups in the middle of making out with her – lol – it was so real!

        But yes: allowing other people to shine, allowing other people to be great … it’s so important. (He also gives over his trust to new directors – he doesn’t just stick with tried and true).

        Now I love Al Pacino – and he’s super important to me – he and James Dean are what made me realize acting was a craft and an art – but he sometimes feels he has to assert his dominance over other actors in scenes – intimidating them – like “DON’T WASTE MY MOTHERFUCKIN TIME” in Heat – which is just so overblown – he’s showing off. He’s got that show-off thing. When he can show off in service of a role – like Jimmy Hoffa, who was a “show off” in terms of public speaking – it fits. (One of the reasons why I think his performance in Paterno is so tremendous is that he was not allowed to EVER use that show-off part of him. Paterno wasn’t like that. And so Pacino had to put a lid on those very powerful tendencies – his tendency to want to dominate scenes through sudden explosions of RANDOM SHOUTING – He couldn’t do any of that, and he DIDN’T do any of that in Paterno – and I think it’s one of his best performances).

        de Niro has NONE of that desire to show off – or to pump himself up artificially in order to take over scenes, etc.

        Sometimes you wish he would – it would get rid of the tension. He’s mysterious. he’s gentle but cranky. He really understands obsession and vulnerability – and what covering up vulnerability looks like. Sometimes it’s rage – and we feel almost more comfortable with rage than with … the guy in This Boy’s Life – so cringey – or his character in Stone.

        De Niro literally seems to not care about himself at all, and what he needs to get out. He doesn’t “need” to get anything out. Acting is just not about that for him at all.

    • sheila says:

      // since I discovered your favorite uplifting movies thoughts on Blue Crush //

      Oh my gosh, I am so happy that THAT was your first discovery! lol I stand by it!

      Thank you so much for your thoughts on De Niro. I completely agree that his generosity to other actors is such a huge part of what makes him HIM – “the better they all are, the better the film” – absolutely. He has so much power, such an aura of power, and he uses it with such humility and grace. And he makes people better by how he listens to them. Quick story: a friend of a friend actually made it through enough audition rounds for a film (I can’t remember which film) that he got into the room to read with De Niro. Nervewracking, right? He was intimidated, and quaking. They read the scene together and he said afterwards that the second they started reading together his nerves vanished – because De Niro – how he listened, his focus, etc. – FORCED friend of a friend into the moment of the scene. It was impossible to NOT be in the moment, because of how De Niro – who I am sure perceived the nerves in the newbie – approached it. The guy didn’t get the part but he said he emerged from that one audition a better actor.

      That’s De Niro. To put out that kind of focus in an audition situation – merely in order to allow this young actor to be the best that he could be … It’s very moving to me. De Niro has never forgotten what “it’s all about”.

      // He not only never seems afraid of being overshadowed but I can even picture him being happy when and if this happens. //

      I totally agree. He is fine playing second banana. He segued into those types of parts with no shame or hesitation. There was no ego. So something like Boy’s Life … Leo is so so good in it – and De Niro was so thrilled about it he passed on the recommendation to Scorsese – and of course the Leo-Marty collaboration is now as fruitful as the De Niro-Marty collaboration.

      And of course it’s thrilling when he gets to be central again – like in Stone – a recent discovery for me (I somehow missed it in its original release). I think it’s one of his best performances, and certainly as insightful and as painfully revealing as, say, King of Comedy or Taxi Driver.

      Thanks so much for reading all these years and for commenting!

      • José Gabriel Ferreras says:

        Thank you, Sheila, I stand by my love of Blue Crush as well! That you not only share with us all the writing you do, but also take the time and care you take in the comments section, I’m just at a loss for words…

        I was just re-watching Flawless yesterday (it didn’t make any noise when released, but I remember catching it in the cinema), and this idea struck me again. This is no doubt Philip Seymour Hoffman’s moment, from that small role in 1992 in Scent of a Woman to this in 1999, what a ride. There’s something almost magical when an actor is building his/her career, and Hoffman was just… the best. And De Niro seems to me so happy to be supporting him in this movie. It’s all, as you say, just about listening sometimes, and he seems to be happy doing just that (not that listening is easy!). He’s no doubt aware of the nerves and trepidation around him when other actors meet him for the first time, but I guess they all get relaxed when they see that it’s all about the acting for him, abut the work. And this allows for them to also give their best work, which De Niro seems to be delighted to assist to when it happens. The legend or genius thing is just something the others throw at him, but he seems so uninterested in that (and uncomfortable when they do). He’s most likely always the biggest talent in the room, but that is almost non-relevant, there are no differences on set between him and the rest. It feels like to him they’re all united by one thing, a love of acting. And that’s what it’s all about, the love, the joy of what you do, that’s the secret! Thank you, Sheila. Best, Gabriel

        • sheila says:

          I saw Flawless in the theatre too! I was there for De Niro and riveted by Hoffman. It’s funny, I just thought about this movie the other day – I had totally forgotten about it, and it came back into my mind and wow – in my memory bank is whole entire scenes. But I hadn’t thought about it in years! I am looking forward to watching it again – to re-live it. I totally agree that De Niro loves to assist in other younger actors’ rise – he really gets it. I mean, he did it with Leo, too. Their scenes together in This Boy’s Life are just miraculous – it really looks like De Niro is physically hurting him at times – and of course he isn’t – but the illusion is so complete. And he was instrumental in Leo’s new phase as Scorsese leading man – he was so impressed with the kid when they worked together so many years before.

          De Niro is a great assist. It’s like basketball. People think the guy shooting the basket is the most important – but the guy who tosses it to him – who clears the way for him – is equally important. I really REALLY admire this about De Niro.

          • José Gabriel Ferreras says:

            For the most part, Schumacher understands in the film that he doesn’t need to do anything, just place the camera, don’t be too intrusive and let the actors riff on and that’s more than enough for the magic to happen. You wouldn’t associate Schumacher with getting Understated, but here he gets it. The thriller subplot is so tired and derivative, but not everything you love needs to be perfect, and I love this! Hope you enjoy your rewatch!

  2. Larry Aydlette says:

    I liked Falling In Love if for no other reason than the New York ambience. And I still remember Jane Kaczmarek slapping De Niro. That looked and felt like a real slap.

    • sheila says:

      Larry – absolutely. I love the whole Metro North context! I spent a lot of time on that train visiting my sister. You definitely could conduct a romance with those commute times.

  3. I don’t know if it would have made sense in context of your project, but my favorite De Niro performance may well be MIDNIGHT RUN, a movie that I think deserves a lot more accolade than it usually gets. I think it tends to get filed away under “80s Action Flicks”, which it IS, but it’s SUCH a good one, and it’s just loaded with great acting. Yaphet Kotto as the FBI director who is probably going to explode from anxiety, for one. And De Niro and the wonderful gonzo chemistry he has with Charles Grodin! Great character work by Dennis Farina, John Ashton, and others.

    Anyway, I always find a certain kind of awkward blue-collar dignity to De Niro’s best performances. He’s always a pleasure to watch, even in the stuff you know he’s doing for the paycheck. (And there’s nothing wrong with doing stuff for the paycheck! You gotta eat, after all, and not every project can be THE IRISHMAN….)

    • sheila says:

      Kelly – Yes, I love Midnight Run. You are so right: it’s just packed with amazing actors – Joe Pantoliono! and the others you mentioned.

      // I always find a certain kind of awkward blue-collar dignity to De Niro’s best performances. //

      This is a really beautiful way of putting it.

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