It’s been almost a month since the last time I published anything on this blog, and I’m really excited to write something new here. Over the past 30 days I’ve completely switched my focus from non-fiction writing to fiction writing; mostly drafts of short stories and flash fictions. It feels weird writing something that isn’t set in medieval Europe or some far away land, and I’ll probably look into establishing some balance between the types of things I like to write. Enough about my own personal life, I want to dive right into the subject.
I’m no movie expert, and I can’t pretend that I’ve been watching a lot of movies in the past. However, as of late, and with my declining interest in some of my old hobbies -namely video games- I’ve started investing more times into exploring the realm of the big screen. To me, it started over five years ago when I watched the movie “Analyze that” (2002), directed by Harold Ramis, and with Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal playing the lead roles. Back then, the only films I used to watch were animated Disney and Dreamworks comedies; it was unthinkable for me to sit through anything that was over 90 minutes, and even that was a stretch. I only watched them to be amused, and I never really appreciated movies as a past time or a hobby. The occasional releases such as “Shrek” or “Toy Story” caught my attention from time to time, but that was it. However, I remember once while flipping through random channels on the TV, I stumbled upon a scene that I will forever hold dear in my heart. It’s one of the moments where Paul Vitti (De Niro) praises Ben Sobel (Crystal) and exclaims “You. You, yeah you. You’re good you. Yeah, you’re good.” He was saying it in such a tone, with a bizarre intonation and a unique facial expression, I had to know who he was -yes, I didn’t know who Robert De Niro was at the time-. After discovering the true identity of Paul Vitti on the Internet, my curiosity was temporarily quenched. Years later, and on what appeared to be a whim, I decided to give motion pictures a more serious attempt. I had remembered one actor that I had observed and appreciated some years back, and thus began watching classic flicks like “The Godfather”, or “Goodfellas” where Robert De Niro was more or less involved. I immediately fell in love with gangster movies, and especially De Niro’s iconic acting and unique portrayal of his characters. Since then, I’ve been able to watch a wide array of his movies, ranging from Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) to Meet the Parents (2000) and The Family (2013).
This next paragraph provides substantial spoilers for those who have not watched “Awakenings”.
A few days ago I watched Awakening (1990), and it reminded me how amazing his performance can be. Quick synopsis: It’s the story of Dr. Malcom Sayer (Robin Williams), an nerdy researcher who ended up working in a hospital for the chronically ill. He takes notice in a handful of patients who all manifest identical symptoms; total paralysis of the whole body and near complete unresponsiveness. Dr Sayer then goes out of his way to study and cure them, especially after discovering a new drug that could potentially save them. Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Leonard Lowe, one of the patients, was phenomenal and shook me to the core. For the first few minutes of the movie, De Niro barely appears and hardly moves. However, once he takes an experimental drugs, Leonard regains movement, albeit with tics and spasmodic movements, and greatness ensues. De Niro’s performance is so convincing he could fool most people into thinking he really is suffering from serious twitches. Furthermore, his brilliant acting isn’t limited to the realistic portrayal of the illness. In fact, in the times when Leonard is overcoming his tics, De Niro successfully depicts a man full of hope and optimism whose nature wins over the hearts of everyone around him watching him, especially the audience. However, no man can stay positive forever, and De Niro really brings out Leonard’s frustration and anger when his condition worsens and things start going downhill. He really projects a genuine account of Leonard’s conflicted feelings as the odds slowly stack up against him and the rest of the patients.
End of spoilers.
Awakenings is but one of the many movies where De Niro provides the viewer with unforgettable acting; Goodfellas, Midnight Run, Raging Bull, and the King of Comedy are a small sample of such flicks. He truly sets himself apart as one of the greatest actors that have ever lived, investing a lot of effort and time to his role, both during and prior to filming. He is even known to have spent weeks working as a taxi driver in preparation for “Taxi Driver”, boxing for weeks with co-star Joe Pesci (who often co-acted with him in many other movies), and even accidentally breaking Joe’s rib on-stage during a fight between the two. One must also not forget the role that the director plays in giving the right conditions for a great performance, and Martin Scorsese immediately comes to mind. Indeed, his partnerships with Robert De Niro gave birth to some of the finest movie productions of our time.
There’s much more to say about Robert De Niro’s career, and this article certainly does not do it justice. Nonetheless, I really think that a at least a mention was needed for the actor whose dedication and talent won him countless awards, earned him unprecedented recognition and whose performances in over 90 films set new standards in Hollywood.