The life and work of the legendary actor.
Film critic and best-selling biographer Levy (Paul Newman: A Life, 2009, etc.) turns his attentive eye to another silver screen icon: Robert De Niro (b. 1943). Though De Niro has been a persistent pop-culture presence since his film career started over 40 years ago, he is famously reticent with the press. Paradoxically, De Niro, a man notorious for his intense and immersive performances, would often embarrassingly fumble through press interviews, hardly displaying the confidence and poise that he exudes on screen. Despite scant sources of candidness by De Niro, Levy expertly culls details for a vivid, complex portrait of the enigmatic actor, from his bohemian parents and upbringing amid the art scene of midcentury Manhattan to his rise alongside the auteur generation of new American filmmakers to his status as a revered idol. De Niro’s withholding of his personal life has created a mystique around him, an aura that Levy plays up by tracing De Niro’s lineage to an 11th-century Roman cavalryman, an audacious attempt to present his subject in a noble and rarefied air. It is, perhaps, the only misstep by Levy, but like any successful biographer, he captures not only the life of his subject, but the spirit of the times in which De Niro lived, simultaneously charting the success of collaborators and peers like Martin Scorsese. Levy is not simply star-struck; he objectively portrays the criticism of De Niro’s later career for choosing easy blockbuster fare. Perhaps the best symbols of De Niro’s dedication to his craft are the numerous anecdotes about his massive collection of stage props and set pieces. For De Niro, the success of a role was in his attention to detail, and he never relied on histrionics but rather a minimalist philosophy of revealing only a character’s essential emotions—much like he approached his own life.
An impressive biography that will surely stand as the definitive De Niro volume.