Yes, Robert De Niro turns 70 on Saturday (Aug. 17).
Time flies when you’re starring in nearly 100 movies over the past 50 years.
It’s not as if age is slowing down the Oscar-winning actor (who took home gold statues for “The Godfather: Part II” and “Raging Bull,” and has been nominated another five times). De Niro has five movies in the can and another three in the planning stages.
To those still in their twenties, De Niro has always been a star. But to those of us with a few more decades of living behind us, he was a highly regarded New York stage actor who broke through big in the early 1970s by playing a fatally ill pro baseball player in “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973), a budding psycho in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (1973) and young Vito Corleone in “Godfather II” (1974). De Niro then cemented his hold on the actor-of-his-generation title with his haunting portrayal of disturbed loner Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1975), the role in which he uttered the line with which he will forever be identified: “You talkin’ to me?”
In the decades that followed, De Niro’s output was prodigious. In the early years, he was brooding and intense; there was always the possibility that violence might erupt at any minute in his turns in such major films as “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Raging Bull” (1980), “The Untouchables” (1987) and “Goodfellas” (1990). He also showed himself capable of comedy, scoring with “The King of Comedy” (1982) and “Midnight Run” (1988). (It helped that he repeatedly worked with Scorsese.)
But then something happened. A De Niro movie no longer became an event. Sure, he still could knock your socks off in “This Boy’s Life” (1993) or “Wag the Dog” (1997), but there were too many routine or downright lousy films like “The Fan” (1996), “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” (2000) and “Meet the Fockers” (2004) — too much of a tendency to parody himself.
Hey, it’s a job. De Niro, just like everyone else, has to make a living. Some days you do it for love and some days because you have to pay the mortgage or, in De Niro’s case, cover the expenses of ex and current wives and girlfriends and multiple children and a burgeoning real estate and business empire in downtown Manhattan.
If there’s one thing we all learn as we get older, it’s that any career has its ups and downs, including those of big time movie stars. Even if you are lucky enough to be passionate about what you do, and clearly De Niro is, there are times when it’s hard to feel passionate about the more routine aspects of the job.
De Niro can only be as good as the parts he is offered. Unlike, yes, Sylvester Stallone or Ben Affleck, he’s not a writer and can’t write himself an amazing part that’ll lift him out of a slump.
But what’s so encouraging about his career, besides its longevity, is that he obviously still cares and can still deliver when given the chance and the right material. The proof is in “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), for which he earned an Oscar nomination as the excitable but loving father of a bipolar adult son.
De Niro clearly connected with both the character and the material — director David O. Russell revealed in interviews that one of De Niro’s own children has a disability — and consequently gave a performance as real and engaged as any he has ever given. Moviegoers were reminded all over again just what a powerhouse he can be on a screen.
So, happy birthday, Mr. De Niro. Here’s hoping there are many years more of great performances to come.