Tag: Robert De Niro


Oscar Worthy Characters [Part 1]: Vito Corleone

January 27, 2021

There are two characters whose portrayal have landed the actors who played them Oscars: Vito Corleone and the Joker. These are characters from a different genre of film, from different periods in cinema style and with very different personalities yet both have this rare distinction. In this article, I will focus on Vito Corleone.

Spoiler Warning – Huge spoilers for The Godfather trilogy

Vito Corleone

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone // Credit: Paramount Pictures
Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone // Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Godfather Part I and Part II are often considered two of the best films ever made (and I would agree with that assessment), bringing together a truly fantastic cast with Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro winning Oscars for their portrayal of Vito Corleone. So clear is the love for these films there is a Family Guy sketch about how The Godfather is perfect. 

The Oscars are by no means a perfect measure of quality but it is interesting to think about why two portrayals of the same character were so well-received. The Godfather Part I introduces us to the character of Vito Corleone, the most powerful crime boss in New York, respected and feared, The Godfather Part II is very much an origins story for Vito. In this film we see Vito Corleone (he still has the surname Andolini at this point) as a boy, fleeing Sicily in fear of his life, coming to America, alone and trying to make his way in the world. He has a difficult life and we see how he is slowly drawn into a life of crime. Whilst Vito is a criminal figure there is a contrast between the far more restrained figure of Vito compared to his son Michael. Vito genuinely takes his role as a protector of the Italian-American community seriously yet Michael seems less concerned with this and more concerned just with power. When Michael is Godfather he radiates menace, whereas there is more of a statesman feel to Brando’s Vito.

Why Is This Character So Memorable?

Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen and 
Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone
Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen and
Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone // Credit: Paramount

To look at the actual performances – Marlon Brando is understated and calm but gives off the power and authority of the position. The first scene of The Godfather Part I sums up so much of what Vito Corleone is about; how he insists on there be justice, how he is offended that someone is trying to hire him to commit murder rather than to be his friend and ask for help. Not far into the movie Brando’s Vito is nearly killed and never recovers his strength with his other family members taking his place but he still exudes authority and gives wise counsel.

De Niro’s Vito tells the story through the other end of the telescope. It starts with a powerless child with no family sent to another country so he isn’t killed and his name taken away at Ellis Island. Part of what comes across in this film is that it was very hard for Italian-American immigrants not to be involved in the Mafia, De Niro’s Vito loses his job as his employer has to give it to a friend of the local Mafia representative. The motivations of De Niro’s Vito are not entirely clear – when he kills Don Fanucci there is an element of this is a bad guy but is his ambition also coming into play? Far more understandable is when De Niro’s Vito travels to Sicily to finally take revenge on the man who killed his family. De Niro’s Vito is also portrayed as someone who almost fell into being a gangster, with people coming to him for help with their problems. Brilliantly De Niro portrayed a man who seemed like a decent person, certainly before his life of crime starts he just seemed nice. Then there is obvious reluctance De NiroVito has to take up this position of power.

There is certainly a connection between Brando’s Vito and De Niro’sVito and this is important as De Niro’s job was not to just play a character but make it seem like he was the younger version of a character.

Vito’s relationship with his children is also a crucial part of the character. Brando’s Vito has many brilliant scenes with or about his children – talking to Michael about what hopes he had for him away from crime, to his heartbreak at the death of Sonny. With De Niro’s Vito we see a man who is very preoccupied with providing for his family and ensuring they are safe. Vito’s story in The Godfather Part II takes places over many years and the passage of time is tracked by the presence of his children. And, of course, The Godfather Part I starts with the wedding of Vito’s daughter.

The End Of The Story

Brando Vito’s story ends with his death and playing with a grandchild was probably a better way to go than many of the other options for a Mafia Boss. De NiroVito’s story ends as he is ascending to power, his revenge fulfilled and ready to lead a life on his own terms.

Vito Corleone is one of the most enduring characters in cinema – played by two of the greatest actors in the history of film and so it’s no surprise the performances were rewarded with Oscars.

Also Read: 30 Years On: The Godfather [Part 3]

Read More: Oscar Worthy Characters [Part2]: The Joker

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Review: The Irishman

November 28, 2019

Perhaps the most anticipated movie of the year featuring a cast list covered in Oscars, a director rightly hailed as one of the best there ever was and a writer who’s written everything from Schindler’s List to Moneyball. And it’s on Netflix.

What’s Going On?

The Irishman (source: buffalonews.com)

The Irishman follows the life of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) from meat-delivery driver to well… not in the Mafia, but certainly doing a lot of work for them, after all, he’s Irish, not Sicilian. Frank is effectively brought into this life by Russel Buffalino (Joe Pesci) a high up person in the Mafia. Frank does a lot of work for him up to and including killing people. After a few years, Russel sends Frank to watch over Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), head of the Teamsters union and very much in business with the Mafia. The film follows the course of this relationship and especially how Frank is pulled in opposite directions because of his friendships with Russel and Hoffa.

Behind The Scenes

I’m sure this isn’t a surprise to anyone – the director is Martin Scorsese, certainly one of the best directors alive if not one of the best directors ever. And this is a crime movie with an incredible cast, hardly unfamiliar territory for Scorsese. He’s already directed what in my opinion is the best Mafia movie ever – Goodfellas and expectations are high.

In Front Of The Camera

The Irishman (source: denofgeek.com)

First, there is the key trio of De Niro, Pesci and Pacino, and already that’s amazing. De Niro is the narrator and gives an excellent performance especially as things become strained as the film goes on. Pesci, normally known for his wild, unpredictable and maybe a little crazy criminal characters plays against type as a very calm and, for the mafia, reasonable man. However, it’s Pacino who I think gives the best performance. Hoffa is a man surrounded by criminals, murderers even, and never bats an eyelid. He will argue with them, he will insult them, he’ll get in fistfights with them. He’s a larger than life character and you can see how he ended up union president.

Outside of those three roles, the cast is still full of diamonds. Actors like Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel and Ray Romano taking on small roles. I was convinced that Plemons was going to go through the movie and not actually have a line. Paquin, and indeed the child actors who play her characters, are excellent and act almost like the conscience of the film, judging the bad people around her, including her father Frank Sheeran. At one point Paquin says a single word that seems to break Sheeran.

Historical Note – Jimmy Hoffa & The Teamsters Union

Jimmy Hoffa was a very famous person in America, and in many ways still is, and I don’t think there will be a person in America who doesn’t already know where the story is heading and Scorsese made this film knowing that. I only knew of Hoffa from references to him in American film and TV but didn’t really understand who he was or what happened to him. After all, union bosses don’t tend to be that famous. Again, I’ve heard of “teamsters” but didn’t really know what that was but it’s enough to say this was the largest union in America at the time, giving Hoffa an incredible amount of power and influence, and in looking after their pension fund, access to literally billions of dollars. My perhaps controversial opinion is you look Hoffa up on Wikipedia before you watch the film.

He Looks Good For His Age

The film shows these characters at various stages of their life Scorsese employed some clever de-ageing special effects which I thought were flawless.

Does It Work?

The Irishman (source: slate.com)

My expectations for The Irishman were very high, not only is Scorsese one of my favourite directors many of the early reviews were saying that was his best film in a long time. Personally I would put this in the second-tier of Scorsese films, with Gangs of New York and The Departed, it’s great but not quite up there with his best. Let’s be clear, it’s a great film, it’s three and a half hours long and keeps you engaged throughout, the acting is all first-rate and is full of brilliant little flourishes – one scene of a person having to psych themselves up to start their car as they were worried it might explode was one such moment. But I was a little disappointed and perhaps thought it was a mistake for Scorsese to return to territory he has already thoroughly explored. I am a big fan of Wolf of Wall Street and see it as a kind of Goodfellas for a different sort of crime and was a good move for him and I think maybe another gangster film wasn’t the best use of Scorsese’s time and talent.

That said if this was a film by virtually any other director I would only be singing it’s praises and really the only problem is it’s Martin Scorsese so you’re hoping for a masterpiece.

Even before this film, the debate about are Netflix films proper films was surely settled and this just adds to the argument that they are. They’ve made everything from Oscar-winning drama like Roma to fantasy special effects-laden frippery like Bright, not everything is gold but the same is true for every studio.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Irishman (Official Trailer)

Also Read: For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

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Review: Joker

October 4, 2019

Whether you know him as Clown Prince of Crime or the Harlequin of Hate, you know who we’re talking about. The Joker! That green hair, the pale face and the bright red lips are back because of director Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover). However, the Jester of Genocide was never this human, terrifying and compelling as he’s in Joker. The man you have to thank for that: the dazzling Joaquin Phoenix.

From party clown to murderer

Welcome to Gotham City in the ’70s. It’s a time during which a massive economic and political crisis is threating the city, that’s crumbling down completely. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is one of the people who have to endure those uncertain times. He’s having mental health problems, a cigarette addiction and when his social worker won’t give him medication, life becomes even worse. His job as a clown and his ambition to become a stand-up comedian bring a little bit more laughter to his life. Most of the time way too much laughter as Fleck has to deal with his uncontrollable laughter decease. Despite his troubled and dark life, he’s trying to give his mother (Frances Conroy), with who he lives together, the best life possible. He’s cooking her food and watching her favourite show “The Murray Franklin show” together.

His life gets even darker when he is fired from his job and when his comedy act isn’t working. When people are making more and more fun of his incurable decease, something in Fleck’s mind snaps. Ready to take revenge on those who mock him and those who neglected him when he and his mother needed them the most (such as Thomas Wayne). What happens when his anger, frustration, and vengeful feelings are being enhanced by the troubled society? Well, then Fleck becomes the Joker!

Give the man an Oscar

You probably have seen joker in multiple shapes (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger,…) and many different films (Batman, The Dark Knight,…) but no one or no film comes as close as the real thing as this one by Phillips.

The main reason is without a doubt the stunning performance from Phoenix (Walk the Line, You Were Never Really Here). Having to portray a broken, confused, desperate but also vindictive, violent and determined man must have been extremely hard to do. Phoenix pulls it off extraordinarily. He’s shy, reserved and insecure as the comedian but strong, violent and reckless as the Joker. We can still hear his hard and cruel laugh. By the end of the film, he made us feel confused, uncomfortable and astonished, all in a good way though. We certainly need to applaud Phoenix’s stunning psychical transformation.

While Phoenix does rise above everyone else, this is not a one-man show. As the entertaining, suave and typical talk show host, we see captivating and intriguing Robert De Niro (The Irishman, Silver Linings Playbook). It might not be his best work but the last scene with Phoenix makes up for that big time. That talk and everything around it shows the best of the best of both actors and will leave you breathless way after the film ended.

The motherly emotions are being brought to life by the great and captivating Conroy (American Horror Story (TV series), Mountain Rest) as the sad, confused and naïve Penny. More wonderful supporting performances come from Brett Cullen (Ghost Rider, The Dark Knight Rises) as the egocentric, powerful and forceful politician Thomas Wayne and from the fine and delighted Zazie Beetz (Lucy in the Sky, Deadpool) as Fleck’s neighbour who’s a little spark of light in his life.

More than just a comic

While watching Joker, you might even forget that this movie is based on the DC Comic characters. Phillips made such an immensely mature movie. Instead of focussing on the superhero side, Joker becomes a psychological study of a damaged and mentally ill man. Phillips wasn’t only able to create this via the brilliant acting performances but also via the impressive cinematography from Lawrence Sher (The Hangover, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and the bombastic music from Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl (TV series), Sicario: Day of the Soldado).

Phillips and Sher already worked together during The Hangover films and their partnership is again spot on. While Phillips brings the Joker story to life by work, Sher does it with dark, enigmatic and mysterious images. Images of which you ask whether they’re happening or whether they’re just Fleck’s imagination. That very last scene is really the highlight of their corporation. If you add the grandiose, over-the-top and disturbing musical score from Guðnadóttir to it, you feel the gloomy, dark and disturbing vibe coming out of the (IMAX) screen instantly.

Who’s laughing now?

Well, pretty sure it’s director Phillips. Since the world premiere during the Toronto Film Festival, both critics and audiences fell in love with Joker. Not so hard to guess why. This brilliantly made, perfectly performed and spot-on dark character study will blow you away big time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joker (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

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