I was first introduced to what I thought was Robert De Niro’s genius upon watching Martin Scorseses’ seminal gangster film Mean Streets . De Niro played Johnny Boy, a small-time hood hell-bent on criminal deviancy, mayhem, tomfoolery, and pointless self-destruction. De Niro brought such a quality of verisimilitude and commitment to the role, it almost seemed like he really was Johnny Boy and not just a talented thespian pulling off an astounding illusion.
Indeed, upon seeing the film for the first time, one of the producers became unglued as he actually believed Johnny to be a real-life sociopathic criminal rather than a method actor committed to his craft. These kinds of roles are very hard to pull off, being they take a level of commitment most actors are not willing to give. But in some cases, the actor simply needs to be the character; think Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight . The Joker is an extremely troubled and dark character, haunted by his past and the insanity of his soul. At the time, Heath was in a very dark place himself—battling insomnia and exhaustion while abusing an array of prescription medications; a lifestyle which eventually killed him.
I next encountered what I believed to be De Niro’s acting prowess in another Scorsese film entitled Cape Fear . A ripped and chiseled Bobby D scared the crap out of me with his portrayal of the sadistic, vengeful, erudite redneck Max Cady. Max is equally adept at quoting classic philosophers as he is at meting out violent retribution. In one scene, Cady literally bites the cheek off an unassuming young woman in an act of unimaginable violence and raw evil. In another scene, the denouement, Cady endeavors to rape a teenage girl in front of her horrified parents. De Niro portrays all of this brutality with an authenticity that is both disturbing and altogether credible.
In Jackie Brown , Quentin Tarantino’s ode to classic blaxploitation cinema, Robert portrays the homicidal oaf Louis Gara. Louis is a blindly loyal enforcer who shoots his accomplice Melanie in the chest because she gets on his nerves. Yet again, De Niro all but becomes the role of a hapless creature completely devoid of compassion or reason.
And there are many other bad-guy roles that Robert De Niro absolutely owns: Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Once Upon a Time in America, Angel Heart to name just a few. Now, this is not to suggest that Bob is a violent psychopath, because he most certainly is not. But Robert De Niro has something in common with the reprobates he plays so well on the silver screen: He’s petty, angry, uninformed, reactionary, rude, and he’s got violent tendencies.
In a truly disturbing October 2016 PSA, De Niro had this to say about the 45th president of the United States: “He’s a punk, he’s a dog, he’s a pig, he’s a con, a BS artist, and he’s a mutt … I’d like to punch him in the face.” Keep in mind, he said all of this in an atmosphere of Madonna fantasizing about blowing up the White House, Johnny Depp contemplating the assassination of an American president, and Kathy Griffin proudly holding a Trump mock-severed head, in the style of Isis execution videos, before the camera.
De Niro continued, “If you care about your future, vote for it.” But much to his disappointment, America cast their ballots for a bolstered economy, legal immigration, the rule of law, and a country with a spine. And although Bobby had threatened to move to Italy if Trump was elected, unfortunately, he reneged on his offer. Lockstep with Hillary “Basket of Deplorables” Clinton, De Niro decided to stick around to complain and shame half the country. And in doing so, it became clear all those adjectives he’d so carefully plucked to describe Trump now diagnose his own sick mind.
So, why is Robert De Niro so good at playing bad guys? Because it’s who he is—a man with deep-rooted hostility and hatred accompanied by self-righteousness. De Niro will say and do anything to destroy President Trump and the Trump family based on any false narrative that presents itself. Russia collusion? Guilty—even when the obsessively reported story crumbles to pieces. Racist? Guilty—even though during Trump’s presidency, African-American unemployment has hit a historic low, black employment is up as are black weekly wages and salaries. While Trump and his supporters are celebrating this news—including Larry Elder, Katrina Pierson, David Webb, Ben Carson, Deneen Borelli, Candace Owens along with a growing number of people of color who love the president —Bobby apparently sees nothing worth celebrating.
And Bob’s bile extends all the way to the Supreme Court. Consider De Niro’s position on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. At a ball in Beverly Hills in 2018, Bobby had this to say of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, “One reminder: the drinks, wine, and beer are flowing, but be careful. If you have too much, you may end up on the Supreme Court.” This is all well and good, but it should be noted that there was absolutely no sound evidence to suggest Brett Kavanaugh committed any crime, much less sexual assault or aggravated rape. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations could not be corroborated by anyone—even her lifelong friend, Leland Keyser. And yet, De Niro and his torch-bearing crazies were ready to throw out due process in a single bound. But Bob himself undoubtedly appreciated the presumption of innocence when he was questioned about his possible involvement with the Bourgeois prostitution ring in 1998.
At the 2018 Tony Awards, De Niro voiced this incisive and profound statement regarding President Donald J. Trump: “I’m just going to say one thing, F Trump! It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump,’ it’s ‘F Trump!’” Can you imagine if Jon Voight approached the podium at a celebrated awards ceremony and said, “F Obama!” It’s ludicrous to even imagine such a notion. In fact, when asked to comment on Alyssa Milano’s calling him a Hollywood F lister, Jon replied, “Darling Alyssa, God bless her.” So, who’s the bad guy here?
Since Trump took office, the country has seen millions of broke and desperate people find work and are now thriving, but men like Robert De Niro would love to see an economic recession with millions of hard working people losing their jobs—just as long as it hurts Trump. Since the Trump administration has been in charge, the Isis Caliphate has been decimated, and it’s a time of relative peace and prosperity. Meanwhile, actor Bobby assesses, “[Trump] doesn’t know what he’s talking about, doesn’t do his homework, he doesn’t care, thinks he’s gaming society.”
And while the great Robert De Niro’s characters are among the most brutal, violent, and devoid of compassion in all of Hollywood history, just remember he once said, “One of the things about acting is it allows you to live other people’s lives without having to pay the price.”
So, yes, Robert De Niro plays bad guys so well not because he’s such a great actor, but because he’s a bad guy himself. And it’s sad; many of us grew up idolizing this philistine and loving his movies, only to find out later he’s a heartless dilettante, a raging bull with a mean streak a mile long.
The great Robert De Niro is playing yet another bad dude in the Martin Scorsese helmed The Irishman opening in select theaters and Netflix this Fall. I’m sure he’ll deliver a very powerful and believable performance.
American Majority Action thanks guest Op-Ed Author Lynn Galada for this submission.