So let's ask ourselves, since his supposed "return to form" a year ago in David O Russell's Silver Linings Playbook: how's Robert De Niro been doing? Was that movie the harbinger of some late-flowering, crepuscular blaze of glory, mirroring in old age the sunburst that was his rise to stardom in the 1970s? Or was it just another job for Bob that happened to find itself lodged, for once, within a pretty good movie?
It's not that De Niro doesn't deliver any more. He always delivers. He just does it in movies that don't deserve him, and he does it over and over again like a wall-eyed workaholic. Just this year, the man made five movies.
The reason everyone was so surprised by him in SLP? Well, look at the crap all around it: The Big Wedding, Being Flynn, Red Lights, the straight-to-DVD duo of Freelancers and Killing Season – every one a barking dog. And all this as the brain-excoriating memory of the Fockers trilogy has only partially faded.
Next week sees the US release of Last Vegas, with Bob as one of four oldsters having one final bash together in Vegas. I love that movies are finally being made specifically for the ageing boomer demographic, but must they be prematurely senile as well? This one looks like Red meets The Bucket List. Christmas Day will bring us Grudge Match, co-starring Sylvester Stallone. The pitch for this one was obviously Rocky meets Raging Bull, so we have reached, in the De Niro oeuvre, the equivalent of Alien Vs Predator. And you thought rock bottom was The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle?
Now we have The Family. Robert De Niro in a Luc Besson movie – that about says it all. Cartoonish, incoherent, under- and over-written in equal measure, visually grimy and tonally all over the place… Well, I admit these things don't bother me so much when it's Jason Statham upfront, but De Niro? Here, he's a painted-by-numbers mafioso under US witness protection safekeeping in Normandy, inexplicably. Trying to remain inconspicuous, the family members solve every problem, from bullies at school to snooty Gallic shopkeepers, with maximum violence and minimum plausibility. The script sounds like it was translated from French to English by the Japanese guy who writes hi-fi installation manuals. By the time Bob's old mafia enemies finally track him down, you're asleep.
There are 30-year-olds alive today who think De Niro's first great performance was Al Capone in The Untouchables. I was lucky enough to have watched De Niro emerge as a truly new and incendiary kind of movie actor as it happened. The unparalleled 1973-83 Scorsese partnership, The Godfather II, Bang The Drum Slowly, The Deer Hunter, True Confessions, Once Upon A Time In America; heaven, it was. And I do not know what happened.
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image: © Angela George