A Tough Signature Moment From 'A Bronx Tale'
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes being a tough guy is all about the nuance.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro, Sr., is a new HBO documentary feature about the famous actor’s father, and the buzz it’s getting brought back the memory of Robert De Niro’s first directorial foray into the fertile ground of fatherhood.
Specifically, his 1993 crime drama A Bronx Tale.
The film marked a pretty significant shift, with the De Niro of Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Cape Fear and a good half dozen other tough-guy touchstones moving from being in front of the camera to behind it. In the minds and hearts of critics and true film fans, a directorial debut is less significant for its box-office success or failure than it is for what it reveals about that director that the rest of his movies either can’t or won’t say.
In the case of De Niro, it’s the film’s prevailing preoccupation with fathering. The story follows a son played by Lillo Brancato Jr. as he’s drawn away from his father’s honest, hard work (yeah, De Niro played the film’s father) and into the sphere of a gangland boss played by scriptwriter Chazz Palminteri. If the film’s posters didn’t make it clear, this is an age-old good vs. evil soap opera with enough gray shades that some — not us, but some — might call it heartwarming.
But all heartwarming aside, the set piece that gives us the most amount of pleasure occurs during the 4 minutes and 22 seconds of film that shows Brancato and Palminteri returning to the mob-run neighborhood bar to find it full of interloping outlaw bikers. Palminteri, who had originally performed portions of this script in a long-running one-man theater piece, shines as the mobster who handles the discourteous disruption of his business with as much soft-spoken panache as possible.
And then later? The soft-speaking gentleman carries a big stick. Because ultimately, this is a film about not only father figures, but also what they have to teach about manhood.
Which is to say that ass-kicking is afoot, and you know it simply by one clever turn of phrase: “Now youse can’t leave.”