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It’s there in all of De Niro’s most recent flops: What Just Happened (2008), for example, has Barry Levinson directing; Sean Penn, Robin Wright, Catherine Keener, and Stanley Tucci co-starring; in a script adapted from a successful memoir from a Hollywood producer. Being Flynn (2012) is based on the PEN Award–winning memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, directed by Paul Weitz, best known for About a Boy, for which De Niro had served as executive producer, and co-starring Julianne Moore and Paul Dano, then fresh off his performance in There Will Be Blood.
It’s not a question of Oscars, although he has two of them, so much as sheer brute acting force: His performances — in The Godfather Part II, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and dozens of others — are among the greats.Red Lights, which made ,000, was from the guy who directed Buried — the Sundance darling in which Ryan Reynolds gets buried alive.The Big Wedding should’ve been like an updated version of The Family Stone — it even had Diane Keaton (and Susan Sarandon and Katherine Heigl). Killing Season offered an opportunity to star opposite John Travolta, with a script that had been featured on the 2007 “Black List,” which singles out the best unproduced scripts in a given year. The Family was directed by Luc Besson — and returned Michelle Pfeiffer to classic gun moll mode; The Bag Man put him in a fucked-up noir based on Jungian psychology; and Last Vegas let him have fun, Ocean’s 11–style, with three of the top male actors of his age still working (Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline).But there were plenty of bad films in the years before: Mistress (1992); Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a big-budget flop); Jacknife ( million domestic); Angel Heart (co-starring Mickey Rourke), Falling in Love (opposite Meryl Streep); Guilty by Suspicion (playing a lawyer with Annette Bening).Even King of Comedy, now regarded as a classic Scorsese collaboration, barely topped .5 million and divided critics.