Friday, December 29, 2006

Brother, What Happened To You?

A big debate amongst film fans throughout the 80's and 90's was this one: Pacino or De Niro? I was on the fence for a long time but sometime in the late 80s it stopped being a conversation for me because I had my answer. Pacino, after making his comeback with 1988's Sea Of Love, has continued to give great performances in quality films. Pacino's work in films like Carlito's Way, Donnie Brasco, Insomnia, Looking For Richard, Heat and People I Know will all fit in nicely with his legacy. Even misfires like Simone or Two For The Money aren't total embarrassments, Pacino has continued to give us performances in films that are worth his and our time.
De Niro is another story. At his height from 1973's Mean Streets to 1980's Raging Bull he was without question our finest actor. The range he showed in film's like Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, 1900, New York New York, and Godfather 2 is almost beyond comprehension. Something happened after Raging Bull though, of the 11 films he made in the 80s only The King Of Comedy, the underrated Midnight Run and the astonishing Once Upon A Time In American are the equal to his work in the 70's. Perhaps he exhausted himself, perhaps somewhere along the way he just stopped caring.
The 90's should have been a great decade for him but even in his final films with Scorsese: GoodFellas, Cape Fear and Casino he never seems totally engaged. There is never a moment in those films, no matter how great they might be, that he makes us feel the way he had before. Never a moment when he lets us understand things about ourselves the way he had, suddenly he just actor.
He worked alot through the 90s, 25 films including one he directed himself. He gave two of his best performances in Heat and Jackie Brown. Other roles in such films as CopLand, Ronin, and Wag The Dog would allow him characters that he could slip into without going too deep. Nothing he would do in that ten year period would be embarrassing but ultimately it all comes down to his last scene in Jackie Brown when after shooting him Samuel Jackson asks, what happened to him, 'Your ass used to be beautiful.' De Niro, like his character Louis in Tarantino's greatest film, hit a wall somewhere and he's yet to recover.
This decade has seen perhaps the finest actor this country ever produced making lousy film after lousy film. Films like 15 Minutes, Hide And Seek, Godsend and Showtime aren't simply bad films, they are extreme examples of everything that is wrong with modern American film. Films as disposable products and there is our man De Niro stuck right in the middle of them. No longer is he giving voice to the dark and hidden side of men, he's floundering, in trouble and seems only capable of giving us one disappointment after another.
I'm aware of his charity and Tribeca work and that is the excuse we keep giving him, that the money he is making is going towards something good. Ultimately though he could make the same money and not destroy the rich legacy that he's given.
The last time Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro worked together saw them back in New York, back in Black and White only this time it wasn't Jake LaMotta, Johnny Boy or Travis Bickle it was a 60 year old man working in an American Express commercial. Our man working for the man and breaking the heart of everyone that had loved him so much in the first place.
Dear Bobby, come back to us. Although you don't owe us nothing, you know you owe it to yourself. Remember what you said in The Deer Hunter, that thing that it's all about....'One Shot'....One Shot Bobby, we'll give you a million chances but ultimately it's up to you to remember. We've got all this hurt and rage built up inside, we need our communicator back.

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