It’s the loud ones we remember first. The scenes in which “Robert De Niro Loses His Shit”—the title of a supercut that Flavorwire‘s put together to celebrate De Niro‘s 70th birthday. Smartly culled from over 30 films, the video is over six minutes of pure climax, and there’s little wonder that it’s been making the rounds since it went up yesterday. I tweeted it, too, and could have embedded it here as well, or chosen another clip from any of a great number of perennial favorites: the Godfather audition, the smoldering cigarette number from Goodfellas, “You fuck my wife?” from Raging Bull, and so on, or Tarantino’s grand appreciation (parts 1, 2, and 3), the straightforward Biography portrait (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), the very funny appearance on Letterman with Dustin Hoffman, or the Brian Williams interview with De Niro and Pacino, which you can’t watch, of course, without thinking of that ultimate face-off in Heat.
What makes that scene so intense, so dense, is that neither De Niro nor Pacino, both of whom are known as champion yellers, loses his shit. These are two men who are in complete control of themselves—and of the opposing forces over which each holds sway. This confrontation is driven by the threat of some very serious shit, and not, again, the losing of it.
No, the embed I’m going for today is a Keyframe rerun, the excellent piece Kevin B. Lee posted here in January, “Who Should Win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor?” Thing is, he doesn’t even ultimately decide on De Niro! But there are a couple of reasons for going with this one. For starters, it does have to be said that in the past couple of decades, De Niro hasn’t always hit it out of the park. The choices he’s made regarding which roles to take on have seemed at times to be a little erratic, and a few of the performances come off, as they say, phoned in. But if you want to celebrate an actor who’s still very much in the game, you want to highlight the recent work as much as the past glories, and in The Silver Linings Playbook, as Kevin says, “Robert De Niro gives his best performance in years.”
Secondly, Kevin’s essay, drawing on five very different examples, is about the ways acting can give shape to a film. Not just how “good acting” can make a film “better” or how a great actor can help realize a director’s vision, but how a performance can actually become a guiding force in determining what a film will actually be.
Meantime, the Telegraph is highlighting some of De Niro’s best roles, the Houston Chronicle‘s Craig Hlavaty reminds us of a few not-so-hot ones, and for Time, Phil Bicker introduces a terrific set of photos: “If Robert De Niro never acted in any other movies besides those he’s made with his frequent director and collaborator, Martin Scorsese, he’d still be a film legend. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas… Add to those his performances in movies as diverse as The Deer Hunter, The Godfather: Part II, Midnight Run, Cop Land and Silver Linings Playbook, and the scope of the man’s accomplishments comes into formidable focus. Here, on the occasion of De Niro’s 70th birthday—he was born Aug. 17, 1943, in New York City—Time presents a fittingly iconic portfolio of pictures by photographer Brian Hamill, made on the set of Raging Bull in 1979.”