De Niro – A Life Of Robert De Niro
BOOK REVIEW by Michael Chasin
The name itself is synonymous with immersive, method acting—and iconic characters such as Johnny Boy, Travis Bickle, (young) Vito Corleone, and Jake La Motta.
In his annotated, 500-plus page biography, De Niro – A Life, author Shawn Levy examines Robert De Niro’s life before, during, and after that golden period.
Mr. De Niro’s father was a noted painter—and reclusive perfectionist—and his mother, who was also an artist, later became a business person who grew real estate.
Mirroring both, Mr. De Niro has been a (mostly) perfectionist actor—while also growing his TriBeCa companies—involved in film production, restaurants, and real estate.
Luckily, Mr. De Niro is a bit of a hoarder (like his father) and has saved all of his script notes—which has given the author insights into the craft—and genius—of his acting.
For Bang the Drum Slowly, as a dim-witted catcher, Mr. De Niro wrote in the margins, eyes always in motion, searching, trying to understand a world I don’t understand.
Mr. Levy unflinchingly covers Mr. De Niro’s prolific 1990’s and 2000’s—that had few great performances, many questionable choices, and his biggest paydays.
Ironically, after thirty years of acting, Mr. De Niro’s most profitable films, Analyze This and Meet the Parents (now franchises), required little of his vast acting abilities.
As Mr. Levy states—Jack Byrnes could have been any age-appropriate actor.
Woven in the biography is Mr. De Niro’s personal life, including his evening with John Belushi hours before his death, his marriages, children, and business interests.
To Mr. Levy’s credit, these are not salacious inclusions, but rather, information that helps shed light on his subject’s choices—without which, a biography would be lacking.
The book ends without conclusions or judgments—which feels appropriate.
With recent classic De Niro performances in Being Flynn and Silver Linings Playbook, it feels as if there is much more De Niro to be had—which is a good thing.