cover image De Niro: A Life

De Niro: A Life

Shawn Levy. Crown/Archetype, $32.50 (608p) ISBN 978-0-307-71678-1

The famously laconic, chameleon actor, gets a respectful treatment by journalist and film critic Levy (Paul Newman: A Life). As the only son of New York bohemian artists who separated and left "Bobby" largely to his own devices, De Niro recognized at age 18 that if actors who weren't very good could make a living then "I can't do any worse than them." As a student of Stella Adler's Conservatory of Acting, the young De Niro grew serious about the métier, learning "the value of application, self-scrutiny, doggedness," a system of self-discipline that would stick with him throughout his long career. De Niro cultivated important relationships early on, yet his most defining roles were under the direction of Martin Scorsese, his Italian New Yorker "alter ego." Their collaboration on such iconic films as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull allowed De Niro to explore and hone his considerable skill and range. Known for his "monomaniacal immersion" in his characters, such as the young Sicilian-speaking Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II (for which he won his first Oscar), De Niro nonetheless created fewer memorable roles in recent years. While Levy calls his later career a "muddle," De Niro significantly helped revitalize the New York film world by establishing a studio in Tribeca and producing his own work. With no help from the publicity-wary actor himself, Levy does a decent, evenhanded job of delineating the career of this national treasure. (Nov.)