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As Robert De Niro turns 80, fans await his latest role – DW – 08/17/2023

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Is Robert De Niro the best American screen actor? Some movie critics, especially those who remember the 1970s and ’80s, would unequivocally say “yes.” They’d say the question is pointless. Who could possibly compare?

One thing is certain: the New York-born actor has made so many masterful appearances on the big screen, won so much praise, and received so many awards that it would be impossible to leave De Niro’s name off the list of America’s best movie actors.

Immortal Duo: Scorsese and De Niro

Above all, it’s the eight films De Niro shot with director Martin Scorsese that have made him immortal — “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” to name but a few.

From the get-go, De Niro showed his brilliance as a solid but slender character who could oscillate between sensitivity and violence. Entire scenes played out on his face.

Robert de Niro (right) and Martin Scorsese, on the red carpet at the Cannes film festival on May 20, 2023 in Cannes, France.
A decades-long friendship and creative partnership: De Niro and director Martin ScorseseImage: Thierry Carpico/ATP/picture alliance

De Niro is often praised by other actors for his charisma and skill. He can convey meaning just by moving an eyebrow, slightly raising the corner of his mouth or wrinkling his forehead.

This came in handy as his career first got off the ground, when De Niro was mainly cast in gangster and mafia films, often in brutal and violent roles.

He used variants of these subtle acting skills in the second half of his career, where he tried his hand at several comedies.

From gangster flicks to rom-coms

Not everything De Niro touched succeeded though. After his great films with Scorsese, there were about a dozen films in which the actor seemed to rest on his laurels. Sometimes his facial expressions suddenly appeared a little too routine and prepared. Even so, De Niro was still convincing in more light-hearted roles.

A still from "About My Father" shows Robert De Niro in an egg-and-spoon race, wearing American-flag-patterned jacket and hat.
A flair for comedy: De Niro in a scene from “About My Father”Image: Dan Anderson/Lionsgate/AP Photo/picture alliance

The comedy “Meet the Parents” reaped millions at the box office, and in “Midnight Run” and “Analyze This,” De Niro left audiences in stitches. Even in supporting roles, the character actor shone through — his performance in Quentin Taratino’s “Jackie Brown” must be singled out in this regard.

New Yorker through and through

The American has been awarded two Oscars, one as best supporting actor in “The Godfather Part II,” and one for his brilliant lead role as boxer Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.”

Several other times he’s won nominations for many of Hollywood’s top awards. Even so, the American west coast is not his favorite playground. A New Yorker through and through, De Niro grew up there, as did his favorite director, Martin Scorsese, and he’s made many of his best films there.

It was in New York that De Niro, a media-shy actor who shuns interviews, established the Tribeca Festival in 2002 with producer Jane Rosenthal. Named after the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, it has become one of the most successful and important events for independent artists. 

US actor and President of the Jury Robert De Niro arrives on stage for the closing ceremony of the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2011 in Cannes. He is wearing a tuxedo, smiling and waving to the audience.
A popular guest at film festivals: De Niro was president of the jury at the 2011 Cannes Film FestivalImage: Getty Images/AFP/V. Hache

Reunion with Scorsese: “The Irishman”

In 2019, De Niro gave his fans around the world a big present: “The Irishman” was — with the exception of a short film — his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese after many years. Perhaps predictably, it’s a Mafia film. Co-starring with Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, De Niro plays a contract killer. The storyline unfolds mainly in flashbacks and is thus also a kind of retrospective of a magnificent career. It was a hit with both fans and critics. That same year, De Niro turned in a convincing performance alongside Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.”

Cannes Filmfestival 2023  - Cast - "Killers of the Flower Moon"
Image: ERIC GAILLARD/REUTERS

As Robert De Niro turns 80 on Thursday, he shows no sign of retiring from acting. In October 2023, “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be released, his eleventh collaboration with Martin Scorsese, who marked his 80th birthday in 2022.

This article was originally written in German and was first published in 2018. It was updated in August 2023.

 

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