A Bronx Tale, 1993.
Directed by Robert De Niro.
Starring Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Jr., Francis Capra, Taral Hicks and Kathrine Narducci.
After witnessing a murder and refusing to identify the killer, a young boy is taken under the wing of a local mob boss who gradually introduces him to a new way of life, much to the displeasure of his honest and hard-working father.
Back in the mid 1990s, Robert De Niro was still one of those actors who could sell a movie based on his name alone, and was making superb films to boot such as Casino, Heat and Sleepers. Fast forward a few years and he’s making nothing but trash like Meet the Fockers, Little Fockers, Righteous Kill, Limitless and New Year’s Eve. Yes, the man who played the young Vito Corleone, Jake La Motta, and Travis Bickle is now starring in films like New Year’s Eve. However, back in his heyday, De Niro made his directorial debut with A Bronx Tale in 1993 and it remains one of the best of his lesser known films.
From the outset, A Bronx Tale sees De Niro on familiar territory; set in New York in the late 1950s / early 1960s, a young boy, Calogero, grows up wanting to be more like the gangsters who control his neighbourhood in the Bronx than his hard working bus driver father (played by De Niro). The film begins like a Scorsese picture filled with music from the period, a voice over narrating the action, sudden and unexpected violence, and shot on location in the area it is set. Having worked with Scorsese on some of American cinema’s most important films of the last 50 years, the opening fifteen minutes of A Bronx Tale threatens to be De Niro’s attempt to mirror Scorsese’s style and tone, which would have set itself up to fail; however, as the film progresses, De Niro finds his own style and the film moves away from a potential Goodfellas-lite to a very engaging and engrossing tale without having it’s protagonist, Calogero, turn to a life of crime; instead, it focuses on his struggle to be a good man whilst his friends are increasingly moving in the other direction.
The cast are excellent throughout and there’s even a cameo by De Niro’s good friend and fellow Scorsese favourite Joe Pesci at the end (which seems like a favour for the director’s debut), but it is Lillo Brancato, Jr. as Calogero who really stands out and he appeared to have a real future ahead of him on this evidence. His filmography suggests this wasn’t to be the way things turned out, and in 2009 Brancato found himself sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for his part in a burglary that resulted in the murder of an off-duty police officer. Meanwhile, with only 2006’s excellent The Good Shepherd as his other directorial effort, it’s a wonder De Niro hasn’t been behind the camera more often because his success rate is 100% and his name alone will always attract audiences. It’s just a shame he’s no longer putting his name to better use.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★