Those wise enough to catch the first-rate new drama Being Flynn this weekend, when the Paul Weitz-directed film opens in limited theatrical release, will notice something both familiar and foreign: For the first time in years, Robert De Niro is at the top of his acting game, giving one hell of a performance. As bizarre as it is to say, it’s been way too long since we’ve been able to confidently utter such an analysis.

Over the last five years, the two-time Academy Award winner hasn’t done much to push the art form forward. Resting on the endless respect and classical merits of feature landmarks like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas, De Niro has taken the easy road as of late, signing onto pointless sequels (Little Fockers), snoozing through clichéd hack-jobs (Righteous Kill), and trying on an action movie persona that’s unbecoming (Killer Elite).

Being Flynn, on the other hand, affords De Niro the type of complex and combustible role that he used to regularly tackle. In the heavy flick, based on author Nick Flynn’s memoir Another Bullshit Night In Suck City (a much better title), De Niro plays Jonathan Flynn, a racist, homophobic deadbeat with delusions of poetic grandeur and an estranged son, Nick (an outstanding Paul Dano); evicted from his apartment and out on the streets, the senior Flynn shacks up inside the homeless shelter in which Nick works, triggering a downward spiral for the younger Flynn.

In a 2012 that’s already seen a handful of great films, Being Flynn is a real surprise, mainly because, well, it’s a Robert De Niro movie in 2012. It’s sad to think that the man who played Jake LaMotta and Travis Bickle warrants such pessimism, and it’s even more upsetting to lament, as a whole, over these 10 Once Great Actors We’d Like To See Be Great Again. Hopefully the ones not named De Niro have Being Flynn-like revivals in their near future.

Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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