Dear Robert De Niro

Art & Culture

Dear Robert de Niro,

I've just watched a trailer for a new film starring you and Paul Dano, called Being Flynn aka Another Bullshit Night In Suck City (I don't see that title making it to the big screen) . One scene shows you driving a taxi. And at that moment, I felt I had to express my deep and abiding frustration at what has happened to you as an actor and a film star. Are you listening to me? Do you ever wonder if the film title above (not the Being Flynn one) is a summary of the current state of your film career? Because I do, and I know I'm not the only one.

87 films into your career, and approaching the age of 70, your reputation has never been lower. Counting the films in the pipeline for 2012, you have made 32 movies since 2000, an average of nearly 3 a year. And not a single one of them is any good. When they come to write your obituary, who's going to talk nostalgically about The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwhinkle, Machete or Everybody's Fine? Not a single person. They're going to look at your career and divide it into the good, the bad and the unspeakable. And perhaps the most depressing thing about all this is that you show no signs of relenting, of either retiring, or taking a good look at your career in the mirror and deciding to shape up or ship out.

The rot started somewhere in the 1990s, which were not an entirely disastrous decade. They started with Goodfellas, and continued with This Boy's Life, A Bronx Tale, Casino and, for those who like that sort of thing, Heat (I don't). But at some point, you decided that you didn't want to be the dangerous and difficult guy, you wanted to be the bloke who was loveable. Take Marvin's Room, for example, a film that nobody went to see despite the presence of Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Leonardo diCaprio. You play an absurd character called Dr Wally, incompetent, bumbling but goodhearted and kindly. You played a man with a twinkle in his eye, and no one was ever less suited to eye-twinkling than you. And then you got a taste for comedy with Analyse This and Analyse That, followed by Meet The Parents and two increasingly obnoxious sequels. All five films play off on the idea that this is de Niro, the fearsome Method actor of the 70s, and he's sending himself up, pretending to be tough and rough and mean, but really he's a great big softie. Some called it comedy, I call it a betrayal.

If you were funny, maybe it would be bearable, but you aren't. And yes, 345 million people who went to see those films and loved them are ALL WRONG. Your comedy style is arch, self conscious and awkward and it should have been strangled at birth. You are not a comedian, never will be, never have been. You're a dramatic actor, whose best days are decades behind you. And the trouble with this roguish comedy persona you've adopted is that it has infected your supposedly more serious work, so that even when you're not playing for laughs, it's still impossible to believe in you. It can hardly be a coincidence that none of the last 30-odd films you've made have been directed by someone who anyone has ever heard of. It's all hack work, churned out at the rate of 3 or 4 a year, and quality control appears to have left the bridge and jumped into the sea.

Do I hear a voice calling out that the Tribeca needs to be financed, that you have multiple alimony requirements, that an actor who doesn't work is like a shark who stops moving, and who the fuck do I think I am anyway? To the first few comments, I hold my nose, but to the last I say, yes, more of that please. Come round to my house and menace me to within an inch of my psyche. Be scary. Be dangerous. Do what you were put on the movie earth for. And stop playing old men with stubble who have a heart of gold underneath a gruff exterior. Or if you really have lost your mojo, then change your name. Call yourself Nigel Matthews, or Paolo Columbini, anything but Robert de Niro. RDN is the man who was Travis Bickle, Johnny Boy, Jimmy Conway, Don Corleone, Jake LaMotta and Rupert Pupkin. He's not a guy who can be found in the same film as Ben Stiller, or Eddie Murphy or Bradley Cooper or Jason Bloody Statham.

I know it's too late, and these cries from the heart will go unheard. I know you're not listening to me, let alone looking at me, but I shall just pretend that somewhere along the line, in about 1995, you were replaced with a clone from Outer Space, who has stashed the original Bobby D somewhere, and if I look hard enough, I'll find him huddled in the bottom of a trunk, waiting to be unleashed onto the world once more.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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