As Robert de Niro, the greatest actor of his generation, turns 80 we look at some of his finest films.

HEAT (1995)

The Herald: De Niro with Val Kilmer in Michael Mann's HeatDe Niro with Val Kilmer in Michael Mann's Heat (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Michael Mann's riveting, stylish film pitted De Niro's career criminal McCauley against Al Pacino's remorselessly driven LA detective, Vincent Hanna.

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"De Niro has never looked more striking or handsome on screen than he does in Heat", remarks Andy Dougan, former Glasgow Evening Times film writer, in Untouchable, his biography of the star.

The film is notable for stand-out performances by its two leads, some fine action sequences (notably the opening armoured-car robbery, and a shoot-out on the streets of LA) and the diner scene between McCauley and Hanna.

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"At this point in their careers", said the esteemed film critic Roger Ebert, "if Pacino and De Niro go out to study a cop or a robber, it's likely their subject will have modeled himself on their performances in old movies. There is absolute precision of effect here, the feeling of roles assumed instinctively". In 2010 The Observer put it at number 22 in its list of all-time best crime movies.


The Herald: De Niro in a scene from Raging BullDe Niro in a scene from Raging Bull (Image: The Ronald Grant Archive)

De Niro won the Best Actor Oscar for his punishing portrayal of boxer Jake La Motto in Martin Scorsese's awards-laden epic. 

Writing in the Sunday Herald in 2002, Allan Hunter, reviewing John Baxter's biography of the actor, said of De Niro: "Anger has shaped his most famous and enduring performances in Taxi Driver (1976), the Oscar-winning Raging Bull (1980) and Cape Fear (1991).

Hiding in the glare of the spotlight Despite a glittering Hollywood career, the real Robert De Niro remains an enigma to most, says Allan Hunter

"Nobody on screen is more threatening or frightening when he makes a direct connection to the inner turmoil and outward violence of his characters. Through his lengthy collaboration with Martin Scorsese, De Niro is most closely associated with men of violence who operate on the wrong side of the law. You expect his own story to be one of a troubled childhood, delinquency, a raw talent honed on the streets that he would one day return to own.

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"The reality is very different, and both De Niro's life and the biography are full of surprises".


Taxi Driver, wrote Andy Dougan, is the story of a Vietnam veteran who spends his life driving a cab through the seedy streets of New York. He prowls around 42nd Street and the New York Port Authority like an alien in a space capsule.

"The film is the quintessence of the cinema of alienation. Screenwriter Paul Schrader describes Bickle in a quote from Thomas Wolfe as 'God's lonely man'.

Forever driven to fight against himself

"Travis observes without taking any part. He despises the pimps and the junkies and the prostitutes; he welcomes the rain that will sweep the city clean of their filth. But although he has the freedom to take his cab anywhere, at the same time he is drawn to them because they are freak-show outsiders like himself. He haunts the streets around Times Square as he begins a mesmerising descent into his own personal hell".


The Herald: Harvey Keitel with De Niro in Mean StreetsHarvey Keitel with De Niro in Mean Streets (Image: Kobal Collection)

De Niro's first film with Scorsese saw him play Johnny Boy, a small-time gambler. “Mean Streets isn’t so much a gangster movie as a perceptive, sympathetic, finally tragic story about how it is to grow up in a gangster environment", said the US film critic Roger Ebert. "Its characters (like Scorsese himself) have grown up in New York’s Little Italy, and they understand everything about that small slice of human society except how to survive in it".

RONIN (1998)

The Herald: The cover image of John Frankenheimer's RoninThe cover image of John Frankenheimer's Ronin (Image: PR)

John Frankenheimer's terse, betrayal-laden 1997 action thriller, set in France, has De Niro as Sam, a former CIA man who is now part of a covert group of shadowy freelance operatives. 

Rendered obsolete by the end of the Cold War, they are now engaged in a hunt for a mysterious briefcase at the behest of Natascha McElhone.

Forever chasing their tales

"As [co-star Jean] Reno grows ever more comfortable and emblematic in American action films," said the New York Times, "Mr. De Niro shows off a brooding, hard-guy panache with its own brand of international appeal".

The film, added the New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane, contained "at least three of the best car chases in recent years".


The Herald: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino and Joe Pesci in GoodfellasRay Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino and Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (Image: Copyright Channel 5 Broadcasting)

A stunning cast - De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Paul Sorvino, Lorraine Bracco - feature in Scorsese's powerhouse of a Mob masterpiece, based on Nicholas Pileggi's bestselling Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family and looking at three decades of Mob history through the eyes of Henry Hill. 

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It was the first time in seven years that De Niro, playing Jimmy 'The Gent' Conway, had teamed up with Scorsese.

Observes Andy Dougan: "Watching De Niro play Jimmy Conway is an absolute joy. His first scene in the film, as he bounces into the social club glad-handing everyone and stuffing twenty-dollar bills indiscriminately into breast pockets, is vintage De Niro ... After the bizarre over-the-top performance of We're No Angels [1986], De Niro's performance in GoodFellas is so convincing that, as one critic pointed out, at times he appears not to be acting at all".


The Herald: Robert De Niro in The Deer HunterRobert De Niro in The Deer Hunter (Image: PR)

Michael Cimino's masterpiece, which won five Oscars, focuses on a group of three Pennsylvania steelworkers whose lives are turned upside down by the Vietnam war. The film had a stand-out cast - De Niro, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Cazale - and, in the words of the New York Times's Vincent Canby, "is a big, awkward, crazily ambitious, sometimes breathtaking motion picture that comes as close to being a popular epic as any movie about this country since 'The Godfather'."


The Herald:  Robert De Niro alongside Charles Grodin in Midnight Run Robert De Niro alongside Charles Grodin in Midnight Run (Image: PR)

A joy from start to finish as De Niro's incorruptible ex-cop Jack Walsh, now working as a bounty hunter, tracks down accountant Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas, who had skipped bail after embezzling $15 million from a Chicago mob boss. Walsh aims to bring The Duke back to LA before a tight deadline, pursued along the way by the FBI and mob hitmen.


The Herald: Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro in The King of ComedyJerry Lewis and Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (Image: PR)

De Niro's fifth collaboration with Scorsese saw him adopt one of what the Glasgow Herald would later term his "iconic loner/loser roles" (Bickle and Johnny Boy being the others).
Taking the raging bull by the horns To conquer the role of Jake La Motta, he learned the art of boxing. And for Al Capone, he wore silk boxer shorts. Now the Oscar-winning actor must deploy the same determination and vigour when he fights prostate cancer

Here, he plays Rupert Pupkin, desperate to achieve his fifteen minutes of fame by becoming a comedian - so desperate that he and an accomplice kidnap chat-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the ransom being a comedy spot on the highly popular show.


The Herald: Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in The IrishmanRay Romano as Bill Bufalino, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in The Irishman (Image: PA Photo/Netflix)

Scorsese's magnificent, sombre tale revolves around Philadelphia mob murderer Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, who was involved in the mysterious disappearance of the Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa in the mid-Seventies. As the film unfolds Sheeran reflects at length on his life and brutal career.

De Niro stars alongside Al Pacino, who plays Hoffa, and Joe Pesci, who plays a powerful crime boss, Russell Bufalino. "While it delivers all the Scorsese-ness you want (you’ll lose count of how many times someone gets shot in the face)," said Empire magazine, "this is Marty in mature mode, a compelling meditation on time, ageing, connections and guilt that reaches the parts other gangster films only dream of".


* De Niro's latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon, is in cinemas in October.