One of the tasks for future film historians will be trying to work out exactly when Robert De Niro started to suck.
Once an actor of unrivalled intensity, De Niro today seems barely capable of staying awake during a performance, much less mould anything decent out of the character. Since his brutal turn as mobster Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas, not only has De Niro’s oeuvre consisted mostly of uninspired sludge, the man’s acting became puppet-like.
Most of the time, he gets away with it for one of three reasons: a) the other actors are so terrible that noone notices (Backdraft), b) the film is actually pretty good and just needs him to be a placeholder (Heat, The Score), c) he’ll take an interesting, small part that doesn’t need him to do much (Jackie Brown, Wag The Dog).
Often though, his presence lurches from pointless paycheck roles (City by The Sea) to simply painful: in the atrocious Stanley and Iris, he appears to spend most of his time channelling a wet poodle. His hamming in The Fan would have embarassed Daniel Baldwin. Most of the time though, he just looks dead bored.
De Niro The Great Actor has long gone. He will still be in the occasional good film, and might even give a decent performance here and there. But wether through financial pressures, bad acting choices or simple disinterest, there will no longer be any characterisations to match Travis Bickle, Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
And the world of film is a much poorer place for it.