Robert De Niro is often considered to be not only one of the best actors of his generation, but probably of any generation. Empire magazine once put him at number one on their Top 100 actors list, and his career between 1973-1999 is totally remarkable. Many actors would only dream of even half of his achievements in those eras. When it comes to his projects in our millennium, it’s a slightly mixed bag. Maybe he’s not too worried about projects anymore and that’s why he picks some random action films, or just wants to have some fun with things like “Dirty Grandpa.”
But even now, he occasionally reminds us why he’s one of the greatest actors. He just had an excellent year with “The Irishman” and “Joker.” In “The Irishman,” you get emotional seeing him back to Scorsese’s crime world that previously gave him iconic parts in “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” As for “Joker,” the movie is basically a homage to “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” and once again it shows what kind of a big legacy he’s going to leave on cinema, and his influence is everywhere.
What else needs to be noted about De Niro is that he’s very prolific. He rarely takes a break, always working. He’s one of the most recognizable movie stars in the world, but some of his films didn’t get enough love or recognition by the masses. Here are 10 very fine movies from De Niro’s amazing filmography that you may find interesting.
10. True Confessions (1981)
One of those films that probably underwhelmed audiences a bit because of their high expectations would be “True Confessions.” With such provocative themes and two of the greatest actors of their generation, they must have been expected a masterpiece. But regardless, “True Confessions” is an atmospheric mystery written with intelligence and is occasionally thought-provoking, even if it has somewhat a disappointing ending. Still, all of that makes for a fascinating watch.
Ulu Grosbard has directed some excellent features like “Straight Time” and “The Subject Was Roses” prior to this. Even though he was better known as a stage director, he had a very fine cinematic eye as well. The direction is very subtle here; you get a lot of memorable silent moments, which for a regular audience member can be a bit boring, but for those who’re engaged by the story may find themselves feeling impressed by the power of silence. The film itself has a provocative theme; it’s a story of two brothers (Robert Duvall and Bobby D) who find themselves at the center of a murder of a prostitute, loosely based on the infamous Black Dahlia case.
If you expect a typical murder mystery, then you’ll likely be disappointed. The film prefers to focus on characterization and atmosphere rather than whodunit, and it’s almost admirable how De Niro – a major star at the time – went after such character pieces. As usual with his performances at the time, he delivers a very subdued, thoughtful work here.
9. Mad Dog and Glory (1993)
De Niro is in the investigation of a murder case, but suddenly starts to put on Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo” singalong and dance to it. Can it get more iconic? Unfortunately, “Mad Dog and Glory” is a bit of a small film to be remembered. Despite having played a number of tough guys, De Niro had been known in the industry for being a little shy in interviews. Here he plays a shy guy as well, a crime scene photographer in Chicago. Suddenly he saves a mafia boss’ (Bill Murray) life and in turn, he sends him a girl as a “gift,” for him to get her “personal services” for a week. After initial hesitation, he falls in love with her, and now he finally has to take a stand. He decides not to “return” Glory to Frank, but to free her from him. But he makes himself a dangerous enemy.
Certainly an odd subject, and it could have taken a risk or two. It mostly doesn’t, but still the movie has a light tone to put a smile on your face and a lot of charming moments between De Niro and Uma Thurman. Produced by Martin Scorsese, “Mad Dog and Glory” is a very entertaining, involving film made as some kind of a police fairy tale, backed by first-class actors. The movie mixes several genres pretty impressively. It also has a pretty nice Chicago setting and a fine supporting turn from David Caruso before he became a TV star.
8. The Fan (1996)
After you finish the film, you’ll keep hearing De Niro saying “Bobby!’ in your head. Is this movie a bit over-the-top? Maybe, but De Niro is still so damn great in this Tony Scott thriller about how fandoms can get dangerous, and even though it logically has some flaws, it’s still a film that may frighten you thanks to De Niro’s performance. And when you think about it, we may have known a fan in our lives that has a pretty boring life and is very much devoted to some celebrity, in this case a sportsman. But when our fan – who already went too far to “help” his favorite player (Wesley Snipes) – learns that the guy he idolizes absolutely doesn’t care about him, things get even much dangerous.
De Niro is what should keep you engaged in the film, but the movie has a lot of great scenes; even though it’s always nice to see Wesley Snipes, probably the best scene in the film takes place between De Niro and Benicio Del Toro. Scott uses some effective color choices in that and some other sequences that make the whole thing visually appealing. The soundtrack is also full of great choices that fit the scenes so amazingly.
“The Fan” didn’t receive positive reviews at the time and now it’s maybe even a little outdated, but there are actually so many good elements here – some really cool scenes, terrific acting performances, some disturbing character motivations, very fine ideas (even some are not used too effectively) that make it worth watching. A little mean, a little uncomfortable, but if you love genre movies, this is some gripping stuff.
7. Guilty by Suspicion (1991)
The (fictional) director David Merrill is married and has a son, but he spends most of his time working and ultimately neglecting his family. Merrill returns to Hollywood from Paris in 1951. There he learns that he should testify to the committee for un-American activities. Merrill is asked to name the names of the sympathizers of communism from among his acquaintances. He refuses to testify and his name is then blacklisted. The film producers no longer want to work with him. The FBI is watching him.
The title of the movie says it all: this is about how a paranoid authoritarian power can take over innocent people. “Guilty by Suspicion” is a mostly interesting drama of a dark period of Hollywood/American history – the McCarthy blacklist. Who knows why this movie didn’t get as much attention; maybe it was too much of an “awards-bait’” kind of film, but the story here is quite interesting and powerful and should hold your attention.
The last half hour is particularly attention grabbing. Annette Bening and Chris Cooper are also riveting and it’s great to see Martin Scorsese in a small role. If you’re too informed about the subject, you may find some parts of the film superficial or bit “playing too safe,” but if you’re unfamiliar with the whole thing, the movie can be really effective and thought-provoking.
6. Flawless (1999)
Joel Schumacher is one of those directors that made one awful film and ever since, the general masses kept associating him with that film. It’s a bit unfair to hold “Batman & Robin” against him since he has made a lot of great films; some courtroom dramas (“The Client,” “A Time to Kill”); some very entertaining thrillers (“Falling Down,” “Phone Booth”), cult films (“The Lost Boys,” “8mm”), and even strong independent arthouse-like movies (“Tigerland”). Schumacher is an openly gay man but he didn’t particularly touch on the subject of LGBTQ+ lives in his movies until “Flawless,” which tells the story of an ultraconservative police officer who suffers a debilitating stroke and is assigned to a rehabilitative program that includes singing lessons, with the drag queen next door.
The movie has a kind of slightly gritty tone that can be off putting for some, and the story is a bit too familiar but yet, “Flawless” is mostly a satisfying watch. The acting may be the main reason here; it’s a remarkable experience for a movie lover to see De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman play off against each other. Both are strikingly good in this, delivering emotional energy to their performances.
As both characters have their own flaws and struggles, it’s interesting to watch them and that’s likely why their friendship/relationship feels true and natural, not forced. Of course, if you get two such major talents, that helps as well. If you love your movies with strong acting, “Flawless” is something you should catch. No matter what you might think of the whole film, you’ll end up being fascinated by these two very talented artists.