Best Director/Actor Collaborations : Martin Scorsese And Robert De Niro

                        A director should be blessed to find a actor, who is akin to them. A actor, who is so tuned in, to give everything a film-maker wants from a character. Successful actors and directors have paired throughout the history of film, but few have formulated so many works of enduring value as these two artists. From 1973 to 1996, for more than two decades De Niro and Scorsese have given us eight features, including the classics Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.

                       The emotionally fraught and visceral works of these cinema legends have consistently fascinated movie-goers around the world. From the jittery Johnny boy(Mean Streets), to Travis Bickle, a tightly wound ball of hate(Taxi Driver), to a cocky saxophone player Jimmy Doyle(New York, New York), to a violent boxer Jake Lamotta (Raging Bull), to the under-appreciated comedian Rupert Pupkin (The King of Comedy), to a monster mafia man (Goodfellas), to a convicted rapist, who is hell bent on revenge on the lawyer (Cape Fear), to the ruthless casino owner Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Casino), their truly creative partnership have given us a remarkable, collaborative art form. 

 Mean Streets

               Mean Streets is the film that established Martin Scorsese's reputation , and it is often considered his most personal and emblematic work. In comparison with his later films, Mean Streets seems like a rough sketch than a fully realized achievement, despite the film's distinction when viewed as an isolated work. At the center of the movie is Charlie (Harvey Keitel). Of all Scorsese's male protagonists he is arguably  the least mentally unstable and the least prone to movement and action. 

            But, the presence of Johnny Boy (Robert de Niro) suggests Scorsese's later protagonists with their propensity towards physical and emotional violence that they are unable to fully comprehend. In Scorsese collaborations with De Niro after Mean Streets the two men were able to fuse the masochistic Charlie with the violent, inarticulate Johnny Boy. 

Taxi Driver

            It was during the 1970s-- the period of Vietnam and Water gate-- that American society appeared in imminent danger of collapse. The confusions and hysteria of the social climate were reflected in the products of Hollywood. Taxi Driver is an outstanding product of this cultural situation. Its rich and fascinating incoherence has a number of sources. De Niro's Travis Bickle is  a alienated loner, a psychopath, and an unintentional hero. And Scorsese made things easy for Travis, conjuring up a hellish urban surroundings that would drive even a sane man to the brink.

New York, New York

               Many De Niro fans might feel that New York, New York is not one of the best offerings for the Scorsese and De Niro pair, but the film breaks the traditional mold established both before and after this film. As the egocentric, artistically uncompromising sax player Jimmy Doyle De Niro wins and loses Liza Minnelli, in a stormy affair that ends up as an emotional twister.

Raging Bull

            Raging Bull is a profoundly ambivalent film which refuses to fit easily into Scorsese's schema. To play the role De Niro got into the best shape of his life, training to achieve the look of a boxer at the top of his game. And then he ate his way into the worst shape of his life putting on 60 pounds to portray the post boxing life of the older La Motta. In 1981 De Niro won a Best Actor Oscar, for this role. Built upon its bloody fight sequences, and its equally ugly domestic confrontations, Raging Bull is a brutally brilliant work that remains a career high for both men.

King of Comedy

          The King of Comedy is more relevant now, which was under-appreciated at the time of release. Scorsese and De Niro present Rupert Pupkin, a lifelong loser whose fantasies of fame take him dangerously close to the edge. This is very much an actor’s movie driven by character, dialogue and a simple plot, rather than Scorsese’s usual frantic camerawork and editing. The film also provided a juncture point in Scorsese and De Niro’s careers. The pair were not to work together again until 1990 with Goodfellas. Along with Sidney Lumet’s Network, it’s one of the most insightful movies about the power of television and its effect on the TV generation.


            This Scorsese and De Niro collaboration sets the groundwork for most fans in 1990 with the plot revolving around organized crime figures.With Goodfellas, Scorsese extends and refines his examination of those shadowy figures at the edge of collective media consciousness who seem both to shun exposure and to covet a dubious celebrity. Scorsese wise guys are the "real," marginalized characters of criminal biography but also parodic figures who adopt the centralized values of an American business ethos which prizes individualism, ruthless self-interest, and bold opportunism. Scorsese's obvious message in this film, is that the American dream feeds upon those it enthralls, that even the "success" story, however perilous, replicate the image of mainstream cultural beliefs. 

Cape Fear

           Martin Scorsese’s decision to direct a remake of an old 60s thriller, a adaptation of 1957 novel, The Executioners, was a surprising one. It  was a tale of good versus evil: maniac convict Max Cady gets out of jail and begins terrorizing the family of lawyer Sam who he believes was responsible for his time in prison. Robert De Niro’s wild, ranting performance as Max Cady is among his finest. Scorsese’s retelling of Cape Fear is bewildering and at times remarkable. The early scenes of suspense are more interesting than the concluding scenes of violence, which are almost comically sharp.


       Based on a true story, Casino is the tale of Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro), who is hand-picked by his mob bosses 'Back Home' to go to Las Vegas to run the Casino. Scorsese directs with his characteristic style, creating a film that is at once surreal and full of gritty realism, particularly when the violent Nicky (Joe Pesci) plies his trade. The film has many glued-to-the-screen sequences, the best of which is when Sam and his crew bust a couple of blackjack cheats.

                           The Scorsese/De Niro relationship has proved one of the most fruitful director/star collaborations in the history of the cinema;  its ramifications are extremely complex. De Niro's star image is central to this, poised as it is on the borderline between "star" and "actor" - the charismatic personality and impersonator of diverse characters. It is this ambiguity in the De Niro star persona that makes possible the ambiguity in the actor/director relationship: the degree to which Scorsese identifies with the characters De Niro plays, versus the degree to which he distances himself from them. It is this tension between identification and renunciation that gives the films their uniquely disturbing quality.

Marin Scorsese Presents Robert De Niro With The AFI Life Achievement Award


Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Great post. Martin-Robert have gone on to give so many successful films. Too sad they've become old or at least I wish they come back give us one more film :)

Rohini said...

Absolutely delightful!! There a couple of them that I have to watch... do write something about "Million Dollar Baby" too.. Its one of my absolute beloveds.. :) I would love to read your take on it..

Arun Kumar said...

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment. There was talks of Martin, De Niro and Al Pacino, doing a movie "Irishman," last year, but nothing was finalized. Hope they join one last time a give a epic movie.

@Rohu, Thank You. Yeah, will definitely to do a post about "Million Dollar Baby." Keep visiting.

Akshy said...

They are a great combo:). Goodfellas i thought was their best movie together:).