A masterwork of modesty and a stirring portrait of family love and fiery friendships, Robert De Niro’s sensitively observed directorial debut A Bronx Tale may not have found the theatrical audience it so richly deserved, but over the years, it has become a mostly unsung classic with true fans of cinema, as it’s a work that wears its influences on its sleeves yet never feels indebted to anyone or anything else other than its own hot-blooded and fully-bleeding heart. With powerful performances from De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Francis Capra, Lillo Brancato, Jr., Katharine Narducci, Taral Hicks, and a perfect cameo by Joe Pesci, the film features a slew of Italian-American “face-actors,” all of whom brought authenticity, humor, and menace (when called for…) to their background roles.
Based in part on experiences that Palminteri had as a young boy and teen growing up in the Bronx, there are so many brilliant scenes, small moments between characters, and individual lines of dialogue to cherish in this passionate and emotionally draining film, with themes that speak to a parent’s desire for the best for their children, and how children nevertheless become their own adults, making decisions that will inform the rest of their lives in ways that they can’t expect. Palminteri’s screenplay is an absolute gem. This is the sort of film that leaves you with a lump in your throat from all that has transpired, with shocking acts of violence that counterbalance the softer, more intimate moments between family members and lovers and friends.
Everything in A Bronx Tale feels lived-in, organic, and honest, and I attribute the believable verisimilitude to the on-point costumes, perfect production design, and energetic cinematography that knew exactly when to show-off and when not to. I adore this movie and have viewed it at least 20 times, and I look forward to showing this film to my own son when the time is appropriate. And I wish De Niro would direct more, as his second film, The Good Shepherd, is wildly undervalued as both a chronicle of a changing America, and as a piece of riveting, historical-based entertainment. But there’s something special about A Bronx Tale, with De Niro seemingly taking so many nuggets of knowledge that he must’ve picked up from his collaborations with Martin Scorsese, but never trying to fully approximate that master filmmaker’s particular style. The film also has a dynamite soundtrack. A Bronx Tale is available as a UK Blu-ray release (which actually turned out to be region free when tested on multiple players) and as a snapper-case American DVD.