What makes Robert DeNiro stand out from the pack as the quintessential cinematic commentator on his times is that he is willing to forego the development of a strong identity that carries him throughout all his multiple roles. DeNiro’s career represents more than any other actor the fracturing of the self-assurance of identity that social movements such as Women’s Lib, Civil Rights, and the Gay Awareness wrought upon the stage of contemporary life beginning in the late 1960s. Robert DeNiro’s career begins during this tumultuous period in American history, but that his career began with a series of films directed by Brian DePalma notable for their shattered order and surreal qualities that mocked every aspect of that tradition of assurance from weddings to television. DeNiro almost seems to have sprung full force into the consciousness of cinema as an actor who questions his own identity and becomes a proxy by which society has come to question established perspectives. The argument that DeNiro’s career represents an attempt to somehow put together a whole identify out of the shattered remnants of traditional expectation is answered by back to back films released in 1973.
The physical and psychic transformations of Robert DeNiro throughout his long career have reflected the disjointed quality of America since the late 1960s. Just as all conventions were ignited by the social upheavals of that era and created a doubt of identity, so has DeNiro’s career been based on renovating himself with each role in a desperate attempt to find the core of his soul.