August 17, 2003

Yes, We're Talkin' to You


PCC would be remiss if she didn't take the opportunity to wish one of her favorite actors of all time a happy 60th birthday. Yes, he's made some rotten films of late, but no matter how many bad mob comedies the man makes, Robert De Niro will always be Travis, Vito and Jake to PCC. In case you've missed some of the biggest films of the last three decades, here are five De Niro films you must see.


Taxi Driver (1976). Yes, the majority of people on the subway will have some idea what you're talking about if you burst out with 'you talkin' to me?'. Yes, if you've taken a film class, chances are you've seen it. But just because it's not obscure doesn't make this Scorsese-De Niro collaboration (thankfully, for those of us who are fans of both, the first of many) any less gritty, raw and ultimately powerful. As Vietnam-vet-turned-crazed-cabbie Travis Bickle, De Niro practically oozes tension and alienation. His co-stars are also phenomenal, especially 12 year old Jodie Foster as a prostitute and Harvey Keitel as her pimp.


The Deer Hunter (1978). This is truly one of the best Vietnam war films ever made. Though less than a third of the story actually takes place during the war, its portrayal of three friends (De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage), both before, during and after combat, is so powerful you feel as though you've been in jungle along side them. The climactic scene between De Niro and Walken (who won a much deserved Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the troubled heroin junkie Nick) in a Saigon gambling den is one of those moments when you want to both cover your eyes and watch at the same time. Also look for Meryl Streep in one her numerous Oscar-nominated roles.


Ragin Bull (1980). Usually not a fan of boxing, and especially boxing movies, PCC loved this Scorsese-De Niro film precisely because it wasn't only about boxing. Instead, it tackles larger issues - such as obsession, violence, love - all of which are intertwined in the intensely complicated Jake LaMotta. And even though PCC thought she would never utter these words, the boxing scenes were simply amazing, especially when accompanied by Pietro Mascagni's 'Intermezzo' from the opera 'Cavelleria Rusticana'.


Cape Fear (1991). Yet another Scorsese-De Niro collaboration, this one a remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 film of the same name starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. De Niro is at perhaps his creepy-psycho best as Max Cady, a rapist who's just been released from jail and is hellbent on wreaking havoc in the lives of his lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte, who, for once, isn't crazy!) and Sam's family (Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis). A bit gruesome for the faint of heart, it's a damn good remake and even features cameos by the original stars, Peck and Mitchum!


And finally*, Ronin (1998). Directed by the late John Frankenheimer, Ronin follows a group of freelance thieves handpicked to steal a mysterious package. The title comes from the Japanese word for samurai who have no masters. Of course, nothing goes as planned and double-crossings, elaborate car chases and hesitant new alliances ensue. Co-starring Natascha McElhone, Jean Reno and Stellan Skarsgård, Frankenheimer's film transcends the run-of-the-mill heist movie and gives us real, developed characters to root for. De Niro plays Sam, a former CIA agent and the focus of the story. And even though PCC is biased in favor of action movies, this one actually delivers suspense, as well as amazing car chases through Paris and the French countryside.

*Since it was so hard for PCC to narrow down her favorite De Niro films down to a paltry five, she's slipping in a few last-minute recommendations, though she doesn't have time to write about each and every one. That said, go rent The Godfather: Part 2, Casino, Goodfellas, Midnight Run, Backdraft and Copland.

Posted by jordan at August 17, 2003 2:59 PM