Being Flynn * * * 1/2
Director: Paul Weitz.
Screenplay: Paul Weitz.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Wes Studi, Olivia Thirlby, Lili Taylor, Eddie Rouse, Thomas Middleditch, Chris Chalk, Liam Broggy, Dale Dickey, Michael Buscemi, William Sadler.
I think it’s fair to say that Robert DeNiro’s film’s over the last ten years or so have been pretty lacklustre. Regardless of this, I’m still that much of a fan that I will always venture into them anyway. If only, to see a glimmer of the great actor enjoying his work again. This might not be the return to form that I was looking for – at least in terms of end product – but it was in terms of his committed performance.
Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is a young man in his 20’s who hasn’t yet found his vocation in life. He is a budding writer but can’t quite decide if he’s talented enough and the lack of confidence in his abilities stems from the harsh judgement of his estranged father Jonathan (Robert DeNiro) who considers himself a great writer destined for success one day. Just to fill his time, Nick takes a job at a homeless shelter in Boston, where his father – now down-and-out – makes an appearance and looking to become a resident. It opens up all sorts of wounds for Nick as he now has to face up to his own demons and their dysfunctional relationship.
The opening line of this film has DeNiro’s character delivering a voiceover, informing us that “America has produced only three classic writers; Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and me“. The same could be said for DeNiro’s acting abilities; he is considered one of America’s classic actors and this is a welcome return to form from him. It’s one of the best roles he has had in years and he really seems to be enjoying himself again, instead of just phoning in a performance. There are glimmers of the master here and although it’s not quite up to his highest standards, he at least draws comparisons with his earlier iconic roles. With his vitriolic rants (as well as taxi driving) I couldn’t help but envisage an older Travis Bickle or, more closely, an older and equally delusional Rupert Pupkin. Again, DeNiro delivers a finely balanced performance of a deeply flawed individual with delusions of grandeur. As good as he is though, the always reliable Paul Dano cannot be ignored either. This is the second time I’ve seen Dano play up against a masterful actor (the other being Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood“) and come out looking very accomplished indeed. It’s in the duality of these two characters that the film benefits from it’s most original idea; having the double use of narration from them both. Each time either actor is onscreen they inform us of their take on life and the struggle that they have both faced in their estranged father/son relationship and how their lives will inevitably cross paths again. It’s through this clever narrative device and two commanding performances that the film is elevated above the unsure handling of Paul Weitz’ direction. The material is strong enough (based on Nick Flynn’s actual memoirs) but Weitz struggles a little with it and seems unsure of how to balance the humour and the pathos. There are tragic moments that don’t quite resonate as well as they should which could be a result of Weitz’ past credentials mainly consisting of comedies. It’s the actors that stand out here and in that respect Weitz at least deserves some credit in drawing two commanding deliveries as well as great use of music by “Badly Drawn Boy“.
This is a good film but had the potential to be better had it landed in the hands of a more experienced director. However, DeNiro chews up the screen like he once did in his prime and for that reason alone, this should be seen by his fervent followers.