Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Top Ten Robert De Niro Anti Heroes

Widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time, Robert De Niro is often thought of as a guy who plays gangsters for a living. While he's certainly done plenty of those roles, he's also played diverse roles in some of the best films of all time. His commitment to the part of Jake LaMotta is often used to illustrate the limit of dedication to acting. His work with Martin Scorsese alone would be enough to make him legendary. While he hasn't received as much respect for his most recent years, he's clearly an actor that loves to work and his willingness to take a risk rather than rest on his laurels is its own statement and with almost 100 films to his credit, it's a strong one. Even today his presence is likely to be the high point of a film. Films like "Stone" and "Ronin" should be enough to dispel doubts about his contemporary ability. In trying to pick his top ten anti heroes, it was inevitable that some notables would be left out. The Godfather Part II and Goodfellas are my most felt omissions, both left out for similiar reasons, simply that while De Niro was great in both, he wasn't center stage. Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments if I left out one you love.

10. Louis Cyphre (Angel Heart)

One of the creepiest portrayals of the devil on screen. De Niro is presented at first as a ruthless businessman trying to find a missing musician, Johnny Favourite,  in order to enforce a contract. He hires private detective Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) who ends up more deeply involved in the case than he could imagine. Although his name is a pretty big hint. You wouldn't think long fingernails or the way someone eats an egg would be menacing, but they are here. DeNiro plays it straight out of a surreal nightmare. He's cast perfectly for this noirish detective story with a supernatural twist.
No matter how cleverly you sneak up on a mirror, your reflection always looks you straight in the eye.

9. Max Cady (Cape Fear)

While I'll always be a little partial to Robert Mitchum, De Niro certainly made his version of Max Cady a memorable one. Where Mitchum was a master at looming, DeNiro's menace seemed more rooted in the physical. The other factor is the pairing of DeNiro and Nolte, versus Mitchum and Peck. DeNiro easily dominates Nolte, while Gregory Peck is a pretty respectable match for Mitchum. In both cases, you can easily believe that Cady is a true psychopath, capable of any twisted act of cruelty necessary to get his revenge and it's a miracle if the attorney escapes.
It's not necessary to lay a foul tongue on me my friend. I could get upset. Things could get out of hand. Then in self defense, I could do something to you that you would not like, right here.

8. Ace Rothstein (Casino)

More of a numbers guy than a thug, Ace Rothstein becomes essential to the gambling business in Las Vegas. With his old friend Nicky (Joe Pesci) by his side, Ace struggles to keep everything under his control. Of course large amounts of money can have unexpected effects. Ace doesn't count on the actions of Ginger (Sharon Stone) a hustler he falls in love with, whose loyalties are elsewhere. He also has to deal with the fallout from Nicky's increasingly psychopathic tendencies. Add in politics, the mob, and ever uncertain loyalties, and Ace has far too much on his plate to deal with.
The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.

7. Neil McCauley (Heat)

Neil McCauley is a professional bank robber, who has heists down to a science. He's equipped with a very serious and competent crew and stays out of prison living by the motto "Never have anything in your life that you can't walk out on in thirty seconds flat, if you spot the heat coming around the corner." However, after a job goes bad, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) notices Neil, and lets him know about it, while Neil and crew plan one more big job. Neil shows a bad sense of timing and falls in love in the midst of this. This of course leads to a big showdown with Hanna, the toughest opponent he could ask for.
A guy told me one time, "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." Now, if you're on me and you gotta move when I move, how do you expect to keep a... a marriage?

6. Johnny Boy (Mean Streets)

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and Johnny Boy grew up together in Little Italy. While Charlie is concerned with his place in the Mafia  and in the Catholic Church, Johnny Boy seems oblivious to it all, instead revelling in his status as a thug. He isn't concerned about who he offends or owes money to, as much as he's determined to live up to his own idea of the gangster image. This makes things difficult for Charlie, who feels he has to look out for Johnny Boy. The consequences of Johnny Boy's recklessness are bound to catch up with them both and it's not likely that either Charlie or Johnny Boy are ready for success.
I fuck you right where you breath, because I don't give two shits about you or nobody else.

5. Rupert Pupkin (The King of Comedy)

Rupert Pupkin wants to be a famous stand up comic, although he's not very talented. He imagines that super popular talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) could make his dreams come true, by having him perform on his show. He stalks Langford as an obsessive fan with no success, and finally decides that his only chance at a big break is to kidnap Langford and force him to put him on TV. Given the limelight, Pupkin tells the audience what he's done, and adds "better to be king for a night, than schmuck for a lifetime."  Although faced with prison for his actions, we find that his plan perhaps wasn't so crazy after all.
Why not me? Why not? A guy can get anything he wants as long as he pays the price. What's wrong with that? Stranger things have happened.

4. Michael (The Deer Hunter)

Three friends from a working class town, Michael (Robert DeNiro) Steven (John Savage,) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are eager to serve together in the Vietnam War. Captured and held in a POW camp, their captors force them to play Russian Roulette among other tortures. The three manage a difficult escape but end up separated. Michael returns home but has a tough time adjusting to civilian life, wondering about his friends. He has difficulty hunting deer, once a favorite pastime, as he has trouble with the killing now. Briefly, he believes that Nick and Steven are both dead, but finds out that Steven has lost his legs due to injuries from their escape. During his visit, he gets a clue on Nick's whereabouts and attempts to retrieve him from a gambling den where he plays Russian Roulette for the benefit of gamblers. He finds that Nick has been changed even more than he has by the years since Viet Nam.
You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot.

3. Jake LaMotta, (Raging Bull)

We catch up with Jake LaMotta well past the end of his boxing career. We're shown his rise and fall, starting as a talented up and coming boxer, but getting sidetracked by his anger and jealousy. Realizing he needs the mob to get a title match, he throws a fight but makes it much too obvious and ends up suspended. Eventually he does win the championship although he's more consumed with jealousy concerning his wife. His abusiveness ends up alienating everyone he cares about including his brother Joey. His wife divorces him and he serves prison time for setting up underage girls with adult men. We get a picture of a man who nearly had everything, but couldn't stop his own self destructiveness. DeNiro's preparation for the role is legendary and shows through as he truly becomes LaMotta from start to finish.
I've done a lot of bad things, Joey. Maybe it's comin' back to me.

2. Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver)

Travis Bickle drives a cab because he can't sleep. He refers to himself as "God's lonely man." as he's unable to connect with anybody. He just drives through NYC, picking people up and dropping them off. He becomes fixated on "Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) a woman working on a political campaign for a Senator Palatine. It becomes obvious quickly that Bickle doesn't have a chance with Betsy due to his absolute lack of understanding social skills. He can't stop thinking about cleaning up "the scum" from the city streets and buys a gun. This leads him into a deranged plan to assassinate Palatine, which is aborted when he's spotted by secret service men. He also meets a teenaged prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster) and ends up altering his "quest" from killing Palatine to freeing Iris. Perhaps the most memorable anti heroes in cinema, Bickle is a
character who only by chance ends up looking the hero, and certainly never feels like it.
Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.

1. "Noodles" Aaronson, (Once Upon A Time in America)

A truly epic film, Once Upon A Time in America, tells the story of "Noodles" Aaronson from growing up in Brooklyn in the '20's to returning home in 1968. He and some other kids in the neighborhood , most notably a kid named Max, form their own gang and pursue petty theft and crime, clashing with other  small time young crooks. Noodles is in love with Deborah, the local butchers daughter. An invention of Noodles impresses mobster Capuano and starts the boys earning serious money, which they keep in a train station locker, agreeing to only open it when all are present. They end up at odds with the local mobster, Bugsy who doesn't like their gang running independently. In their confrontation one of the gang is killed and Noodles, enraged, stabs a cop and gets sent away to prison. On his release, Max (James Woods) picks him up, and he learns that the gang has changed and they now run a funeral parlor to cover their real income which is illegal liquor, due to the Prohibition. He discovers that the gang is now taking orders from mobster Frankie Manoldi, which doesn't sit well with him. He reconnects with Deborah, and rapes her, ruining any chance at a further relationship. After everyone in the gang is killed in a heist gone wrong, he finds the money at the train station has been replaced by newspaper and his girlfriend is murdered. Noodles leaves town and goes to Buffalo. He returns in 1968 and finds his friends' graves were moved. He also finds money in the locker again, and that Max may not be as dead as he appeared to be, but the time may have come to settle things. I can't think of another film that better presents the weight of a whole life spent badly, and DeNiro is fully there every step of the way.
I'm not that kind of guy. Besides, I'm afraid if I give you a good crack in the mouth, you'd probably like it.


cyril.sneer86 said...

Nice list. Some movies I have seen and loved and a few I haven't seen yet. The post then brought me to your post about Falling Down. What a great show that it.

INDBrent said...

Thanks for checking out the list! These are all my favorites and I hope you enjoy the ones you haven't seen! "Falling Down" yes, that is quite a movie, isn't it? Gets me every time!

Unknown said...

This is an impressive list containing some of cinema's all time greatest characters. Noodles, Max Cady and Louis he Devil are three of my favorite De Niro roles. I also love his portrayal of the monster in Frankenstein with Kenneth Branagh. He inhabited the spirit of the creature like no one else, making you terrified and sympathetic all at once. One line that haunts me is when The Creature confronts Victor."Did you ever consider the consequences of your actions? You made me, and you left me to die. Who am I?"

INDBrent said...

Thanks, Mel! He really has provided some of the very best! I'm glad to hear you mention Branagh's Frankenstein. THat's another one I love, but it seems no one else in the world likes it. He really gave the monster a new depth!

Unknown said...

Branagh's Frankenstein is a favorite of mine. And I, too, thought no one liked it but me. I think it is truest to Shelley's novel as it forces you to see what was so evil about Frankenstein and be sympathetic to the so-called monster. I think that is the most frightening. When evil comes in on a charming form or good intentions, as Victor was trying to figure out how to prolong life after the deaths he had witnessed. To me this is one of DeNiro's finest performances. I remember thinking, "DeNiro as the monster..Oh heck no..." I was clearly under the influence of Boris Karloff. :)

M. Hufstader said...

Great list! And "His work with Martin Scorsese alone would be enough to make him legendary" is so true. Though I am actually pleasantly surprised Taxi Driver isn't #1! Looks like I really have to see Once Upon A Time in America. Sounds epic! And I'm glad to see Angel Heart up there--LOVE that movie.

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Kudos to you for concocting a brilliant write up, one that oozes with nostalgia. While I admire all of De Niro's movies, Once Upon a Time in America and Heat are really close to my heart. Also, I adore his cameos in Goodfellas and Great Expectations!!!

INDBrent said...

Thanks M.! "Once Upon a Time in America" requires a full day from you. It's four hours and some change but seriously there is nothing out there like it! Yes, Angel Heart, it's just so twisted in all the best ways!

INDBrent said...

Thanks, Murtaza! I forgot about Great Expectations. Good call! He even makes cameos great.

mahesh said...

Dear Brent,

Exquisite :) that's all I can say!


INDBrent said...

Thanks, Mahesh! Glad you enjoyed it!

Ratnakar Sadasyula said...

Hi Brent, that was a great post on my favorite actor. Good compilation of roles, but somehow u missed out on one of his best uns, Al Capone in The Untouchables. He really bought to life the gangster, still remember that baseball bat scene.