When an albeit terrific but juvenile Leonardo DiCaprio stole a movie from him half a dozen years ago even those around Robert De Niro thought that maybe even legends have a strict sell-by date.
De Niro, master of the moody and the psychotic, a previously dangerous performer with peculiar, unpredictable magnetism, had looked youth, the future, straight in the face and blinked. It's the first thing he mentions.
The film was ‘This Boy's Life' in 1993. It followed movies like ‘Night and the City' and ‘Guilty By Suspicion' in which it would be complex to argue the ‘American Olivier' had even telephoned in his involvement. There wasn't even a dial tone.
De Niro, Oscar winner, Brando's heir with a computer bank of gestures, walks and accents for a memory, who from the age of ten had always wanted to become someone else, the millionaire rebel and recluse, father,husband and lover of supermodels like Naomi Campbell, feted as the best actor of his generation, appeared to have lost the plot and the 1990s.
Just in time to save the decade, he's blasted back this month(October) with a major hit movie -- and claims an international high society call girl scandal had focused all his attention on his work and career.
He was making the high-minded but rip-roaring, ‘French Connection'-style thriller ‘Ronin' on location when he was quizzed for nine hours by French detectives investigating a prostitution ring serving celebrity and wealthy clients in London, Paris, Washington, New York and Hollywood.
The high cost hookers, often ‘model-actresses' from Britain and France , were said to charge $7,500 dollars a night. Some of the girls were aged only sixteen and a Lebanese man who said he supplied hookers to the ring claimed he had once 'dealt' Sylvester Stallone's former wife, the statuesque Brigitte Nielsen, to a Saudi sheik for one million dollars.
Nielsen has vehemently denied this. Just as Wojtek Fibak, the Pope's former tennis coach, has laughed off his alleged involvement in the scandal. He was questioned by detectives like De Niro whose name appeared in an address book seized by authorities.
De Niro, 54, who was marvellously affable and all smiles as he talked publicly for the first time since the scandal broke regards it all as a ‘non-story'. He will admit that he was involved at one time -- in a non-paying capacity -- with a soft-porn British model who herself is now part of the Paris-based investigation. But as far as the prostitution ring which supposedly supplied girls to a variety of famous film, business and political names worldwide he says he was simply a ‘minor witness to provide testimony in a case that had nothing to do with me.'
But ‘Ronin' which tells a post-Cold War tale of six mercenaries and co-starring Britain's Natascha McElhone, an embryo superstar, is very much to do with him. He's the Boss once again evoking memories of his power in ‘Godfather 2' and ‘The Deer Hunter'. As always, he found his answer to his problems and a release for his anger at being drawn into the call girl scandal in the movies.
Much admired veteran director John Frankenheimer who was responsible for classic movies including ‘The Manchurian Candidate' and ‘French Connection 11' said:
‘This is the Robert De Niro people have been waiting to see for the last ten years. He's really a great movie star in this picture.He's the lead and a big hero.'
That's not what Frankenheimer or De Niro were calling the French cops:' They treated him very badly. What happened was, in reality, all they wanted to do was ask a couple of questions and in fact they kept him for hours. Bob was horribly inconvenienced.