De Niro's work in 'Silver Linings Playbook' generates Oscar buzz again

Work in 'Silver Linings Playbook' generates Oscar buzz again

Los Angeles TimesNovember 18, 2012 

  • OPENING WEDNESDAY

    Several movies open in wide release Wednesday. For show times, check listings or visit LexGo.com. For reviews, visit LexGo.com on Wednesday or read them in Weekender on Friday.

    Life of Pi. Based on the novel by Yann Martel, a young man (Suraj Sharma) who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While a castaway, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger. Directed by Ang Lee. PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril. 20th Century Fox. 127 minutes.

    Red Dawn. In a remake of the 1984 film, teenagers (including Northern Kentucky native Josh Hutcherson) look to save their town from an invasion of North Korean soldiers with the help of a recently returned Iraq War veteran (Chris Hemsworth). PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language. Lionsgate. 93 minutes.

    Rise of the Guardians. Animated. When the evil spirit Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law) launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians — Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) — team with Jack Frost (Chris Pine) to protect the innocence of children around the world. PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action. Paramount Pictures. 97 minutes.

    Silver Linings Playbook. After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own. R for language and some sexual content/nudity. The Weinstein Co. 122 minutes.

NEW YORK — Robert De Niro constructs a highly memorable sports-fan character in David O. Russell's new dramedy Silver Linings Playbook, playing a Philadelphia Eagles supporter so superstitious he thinks the positioning of the remote can affect a game's outcome.

The real-life De Niro? He's not exactly a team colors face-painter.

"People can watch certain football players and get genuinely excited about it, and I just don't understand it," he said. "I've never been that interested."

When people around De Niro turn on sports programming, said the man who's played boxer Jake LaMotta and is signed for a biopic about Vince Lombardi, he usually finds other things to do.

Among those things is honing his acting skills, which are on full display in Silver Linings, Russell's follow-up to his boxing film The Fighter. It opens nationwide on Wednesday.

After years of big-budget comedy sequels like Little Fockers and a bevy of tepidly received genre and indie pictures, De Niro, 69, comes back in a big way with his supporting role in Silver Linings. His turn in the film, which won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, had pundits calling it one of the best performances of the two-time Oscar winner's career.

De Niro had plenty to work with in Russell's script about a boisterous Italian-American family, which can veer from Flirting With Disaster-style farce to heartfelt family moments.

The movie centers on Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a bright, bipolar man with no verbal filter who, after a stay in a mental hospital, returns home to suburban Philadelphia to live with his parents (De Niro and Jacki Weaver). There, Pat Jr. begins the delicate and sometimes comic process of connecting with his family and a new love interest, the similarly troubled Tiffany (Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence).

With Pat Sr. — a passionate Eagles fan who moonlights as a bookie — De Niro convincingly moves between selfish and loving, with quirks that never feel put on. In spots De Niro's performance channels his comedic chops from Analyze This; in others, it can be Goodfellas-style serious.

De Niro had never worked with Russell before but says he was drawn to the director's balance of comedy and drama. The actor also alludes to a child of his with difficulties — De Niro has six kids, ranging in age from 1 to 41 — that fueled his interest.

"There's a helplessness, because there's not much you can do about it," he said. "I don't want to say too much more and get personal. But it can be very upsetting." (Adding to the family feel: De Niro has formed a close personal friendship with Cooper, with whom he starred in the 2011 drama Limitless.)

As he continues to act in several movies a year, De Niro said he doesn't necessarily see this as a comeback part. In fact, he thinks there are other recent roles that didn't get the recognition they deserved — like the 2009 family drama Everybody's Fine — owing to distribution and other market forces.

But he said Silver Linings Playbook has charged him up to continue taking on meaty parts.

"I'd like to be playing young leading men, to be honest," he said, cheekily. "But these days it's fathers. And soon it will be grandfathers. If I'm lucky, it will be great-grandfathers."

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