Book Review: De Niro – A Biography

‘The archetypal empty bottle which only becomes visible when it’s filled by a role…’

Like every one of my generation, I grew up on Robert De Niro movies. Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas, Casino, Heat, Jackie Brown, Meet the Parents, Analyse This – all of these titles were films that I watched over and over throughout my adolescence and early twenties. So, when I happened upon John Baxter’s biography of the great man in a charity shop, I acted accordingly…

De Niro – A Biography charts the life of the Italian-American actor from his early days growing up in Tribeca, New York through to his later career in comedies and second-rate gangster flicks. The twist here is that Baxter seems ambivalent at best and hostile at worst towards his subject matter. His biography often reads like a takedown rather than a homage, but having said that, a biography needn’t be gushing, but it should be insightful. And on that score, Baxter succeeds. De Niro’s fascinating childhood is covered in depth, as is his tumultuous love life and notorious shyness. But it is the passages in which Baxter is able to espouse his love for movies and his knowledge on the subject of cinema in which this biography really shines. For all his reticence to praise De Niro, Baxter does give credit where it is due, and while he is a little too scathing about De Niro’s later career, the summation of his subject’s heyday is both fascinating and justified.

I went into De Niro – A Biography with fairly low expectations. Reviews were mixed. In the end, I found it a breezy and compelling romp through the life of one of cinema’s greatest enigmas. Well worth a look for any De Niro enthusiasts.