Lets face it… Robert De Niro is an icon. Like Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, the man is living legend. Part myth, part spectre but undeniably talented, De Niro is a multiple Oscar winner who has crafted a career that includes such modern classics as The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull and The Godfather Part II as well as recent hits such as Analyze This/That and Meet The Parents. So whenever he releases a film, it’s fair to say that it’s amid a lot of buzz. Will he be the grizzled Method Man of old or the more relaxed and self-reflexive De Niro of recent memory?
De Niro’s latest film What Just Happened is set against the Hollywood backdrop of child support, ex-wives, therapy, and affairs of the heart, mind and bedroom, What Just Happened sees director Barry Levinson and De Niro team up once again in a wickedly funny drama written by Art Linson. There is also a stellar cast (possible the strongest supporting cast De Niro has worked with since The Godfather Part II and Goodfellas) of Catherine Keener, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, Robyn Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci, Kristin Stewart, John Turturro and Michael Wincott.
The film follows the trials and tribulations of De Niro as producer Ben, who is desperately trying to save his skin as the studio came down on him for what they fear is an expensive flop directed by an arrogant British Auteur (a solid Wincott). But this is only one of the potential calamitous disasters as Ben is forced to skilfully juggle the demands of the star of his next film Bruce Willis (played by Bruce Willis) who is as an overweight Hollywood star who refuses to shave his beard for Ben’s film. All this while Ben is having his own troubles at home!
A lot of ‘Hollywood insider films’ seem to be making jokes that no one else seems to get. What Just Happened paints a broader picture of bureaucratic stuff ups and hypocrisy, which whilst still making jibes at notable individuals it also highlights not just the failure of the film industry to function with any semblance of control and sanity, but also pointing to a wider cultural fault- our societies idolatry of a façade (Hollywood) that has such large cracks in it.
There are some really great performances. Bruce Willis, playing Bruce Willis has a lot of fun in a vicious and gregarious sketch. The role draws reference not only to work of many of De Niro’s method acting cohorts (Daniel Day-Lewis in particular) but also to Alec Baldwin and other stars whose shine is no longer as bright. John Turturro as Bruce’s agent who’s afraid of his own client, is also excellent.
Ultimately What Just Happened is a film buffs film, but one that does not alienate the wider audience by providing a down and dirty colonoscopy into the inner bowels of the movie business.