Friday Movie Roundup: The Dilemma of Being Robert DeNiro

Many people have complained in recent years (including Scott Renshaw in his review of Everybody’s Fine below) that Robert DeNiro is not the actor he used to be. Maybe, maybe not. —-

A quick glance at his filmography over the last 14 years (or, more succinctly, his post-Scorsese output) reveals a man who is 1) content to earn a paycheck in middling fare or 2) can’t find projects worthy of his talent and track record or 3) is not willing to go to the emotionally and physically taxing places he conjured during his unprecedented string of 1970s performances that included Mean Streets, The Godfather Part 2, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull. (And don’t forget one of his greatest, and often overlooked, roles: as Rupert Pupkin in 1982’s The King of Comedy.)

Personally, I think it’s a little of all three options — but mostly the latter two. Contemporary movies just aren’t what they used to be, thus it makes sense that the so-called Greatest Actor Alive isn’t what he used to be.

The antihero roles DeNiro so urgently and immersively portrayed in the ’70s no longer exist — at least not in the current U.S. studio system. I can’t imagine Taxi Driver even getting made in today’s safe, business-first climate, let alone being released by a major studio (Columbia Pictures) and being nominated for Best Picture (1976).

So get off DeNiro’s ass. Sure, he could have challenged himself a bit more over the last 14 years (see the 1990s filmography of his ’70s buddy Harvey Keitel for an alternate option), but the guy has earned the right to take it easy in his old age. I would argue that the movies betrayed DeNiro as much or more than he did them.

Elsewhere, we have three other releases this week besides Everybody’s Fine, none of which had screenings in advance of their openings today, which kind of makes it hard for us to review them for your perusal. Let’s hope this development is an anomaly and not a permanent trend orchestrated by the studio decision-makers. Look for our takes on each of the films lacking reviews below by the end of the weekend.

Opening films: 

ARMORED — Director Antal Nimrod returns to thriller mode (he previously made the Hollywood-backed Vacancy, which was preceded by his excellent Hungary-based Kontroll) in this story about a crew of officers at a transport security firm who decide to rob their own company. Complications ensue when a witness comes forward to foil their plan. The cast includes a lot of manly men (Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, Fred Ward and Skeet Ulrich), all of whom must be eager for a paycheck. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon

BROTHERS — Jim Sheridan remakes Danish director Susanne Bier’s Brodre in this drama centering on a U.S. Marine captain (Tobey Maguire) who returns home to discover that he’s been reported dead. Worse, he finds that his brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) has now taken up with his wife (Natalie Portman) and two daughters. Sheridan, an Irish filmmaker who made his name with a series films starring Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer) as well as the powerful immigrant story In America, seems a fine choice to take up to emotional nuance necessary to channel the U.S. version of Bier’s original. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon

EVERYBODY’S FINE — Robert DeNiro stars as a father looking to reconnect with his children in this drama from director Kirk Jones. Co-stars Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. (See full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-

TRANSYLMANIA — The vampire craze continues in David and Scott Hillenbrand’s spoof-laden comedy about a group of college kids who spend a semester abroad in Romania. The movie’s tagline says it all: “Euro-trashed! Euro-smashed! Euro-slashed!” (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon