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.

Mark Walker


17 Responses to “Being Flynn * * * 1/2”

  1. Great review, I agree with you that some of his latest films haven’t been that good but I am a fan so I will try and give this one a watch.


    • This is the best that DeNiro has delivered in quite some time Vinnie. He plays quit an eccentric and self obsessed character on a downward spiral, allowing him to flex his acting chops to different ranges. There’s a little bit of characters he’s played before in there. Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy & Awakenings spring to mind. It’s great stuff from him and worth watching just to see him act again.


  2. ray brayne Says:

    This film resonates with me greatly. It is the finest film on mental illness and homelessness in America ever made. Kudos must go to Deniro. If it weren’t for his standing this movie would never have been made. Even with Deniro I don’t think its drawn much of an audience. Such a shame. Real people like Flynn roam east coast cities by the thousands. Bipolar(like Flynn) and other conditions force them to alife of horrors, due primarily to societies’ callousness. I was not entertained to see Flynn freeze outdoors or go mad at the shelter. I cried. My wife is a mental health professional and I hear these poor unfortunates tale of woe on a nightly basis. God bless Robert Deniro for his brilliance and his service to society through film!


    • Excellent words there Ray. It was great to see DeNiro doing his thing again. It’s quite a tragic portrayal he gives and reminded me quite a bit of my own father. My dad wasn’t homeless or anything but was highly intelligent and suffered trying to fit into society. Sadly he died a couple of years ago and also looked a lot like DeNiro. I only wish that a more experienced dramatic director took this hold of this though. I initially had a 4 star rating in mind but after reflection I notched it down a bit as I found that Weitz didn’t quite deliver. His handling of some scenes didn’t work and he was carried by two excellent performances. Still, I really liked this.


      • ray brayne Says:

        I agree with that assessment but there’s not much a new director could help. Pure entertainment this film could never be. I think Deniro knew this but also knew how important a project it was. Deniro lives and works in New York(Tribeca). He must see people suffering like this every day. I know he’s not the type to turn a blind eye. Lest I forget, nice write up Mark. Haven’t seen a lot about this film in the blogosphere.


      • Thanks as always Ray. It’s always a pleasure to see you stopping by. Glad we’re on the same page about the great Bobby. I hope he continues to take on more challenging roles like this.

        By the way, I’ve got a hold of The Chaser to watch. It make take me a while to get around to it but it’s currently in my possession. Cheers man.


  3. Great review! Might have to give this a go, I’ve not seen De Niro in anything really decent for ages, which is a shame.


  4. NIce write up buddy! Good to hear Bobby is on form. I have this ready to watch and will get it done ASAP. The man still looks in pretty good shape judging from the photo!


    • Yeah man. I mean what age is he now? About 70? For his age he’s in great shape. I suppose all that working out in Cape Fear and Raging Bull has payed off. That aside, he’s on splendid form here. I was tempted to rate the film higher but realised that it was more the performances I was impressed with rather than the end result. I really wish another director had taken this onboard but it’s still a good film. 3 1/2 stars is a good rating.


  5. Great review. As a huge DeNiro fan (I also like Dano a lot) I’ll make sure to check this one out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: