You’re at a 25th-anniversary showing of Raging Bull, the movie that offered up Robert De Niro as one of America’s greatest actors, at the Ziegfeld, one of New York’s greatest movie palaces. You’re about to see a fearless portrayal of man as an animal. But what you see first is grainy black-and-white footage of man as a corporate mouthpiece—De Niro walking down a Manhattan street, voicing an admittedly beautiful ode to the city he loves. “My far east, my west side, my private side, my heartbreak,” he says. It’s a moving film, with a sober performance by Bob. But it’s not a film. It’s not even an ad for a NYC2012. Its an ad for American Express—the AmEx of the Jerry Seinfeld/Superman Web films and dancing Ellen DeGeneres spots. All great ads. But should an ad for a credit card carry such gravitas? And should De Niro, whose pedestal in the pantheon of great American actors has been crumbling, be voicing it?
The answer is best left to AmEx, Ogilvy & Mather, De Niro and his checkbook. (Russell Crowe asked the same question recently, too, and we’re not all that used to being in sync with Russell Crowe). We suppose we shouldn’t expect too much from De Niro these days—a man who, as Newsweek pointed out, has brought us “a five-year string of mediocre movies, including Men of Honor, 15 Minutes and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” But we do. Because he once brought us Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. And because when the AmEx spot began, we hoped it was a trailer for the film that would bring De Niro back to the deeper waters, where he belongs.
—Posted by Deanna Zammit