Best known as Robert De Niro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale (1993) is a fine but flawed maiden movie based on the memoirs/stage play of actor Chazz Palminteri. Whilst much rougher around the edges then De Niro’s second picture, the convoluted but absorbing CIA flick The Good Shepherd (2006), A Bronx Tale is often unfairly dismissed as being Goodfellas-lite. Though it’s natural to compare the two films due to their similar plot lines, De Niro’s film is not as insular as Scorsese’s mob epic.
The hoodlums that hang around the bar owned by local boss Sonny Lospecchio (Palminteri) are grotesque, pathetic creatures who spend evenings throwing dice in basements rather than dining out at the Copacabana. Lospecchio himself, who takes local boy Calogero (Francis Capra/Lillo Brancato) under his wing after the kid doesn’t rat him out for shooting a local rival, is a complex individual. Bullish, violent and emotionally crippled on one hand, on the other he is philosophical, affectionate and silently respectful of Calogero’s father Lorenzo (De Niro), who tries to dissuade his son from hanging around with Sonny’s crew.
It’s this battle between the two father figures, the proud working man and the equally proud criminal, that is the most interesting aspect of A Bronx Tale. Capra as the younger Calogero is impressive throughout whilst Brancato, who was cast due to his uncanny resemblance to De Niro, also puts in good shift. His lack of acting experience (this was his first film) provides his character with a wide-eyed naivety, though it has to be said that on some occasions his lack of pedigree does shine through.
De Niro’s direction is workmanlike and solid, with the iconic actor utilising his camera to good effect – excluding perhaps a few scenes involving mass brawls which are a little too frenetic and would have befitted from a steadier hand. The Scorsese influence is evidently there, but that’s to be expected and De Niro is very much his own filmmaker. Hopefully, The Good Shepherd won’t be the last time we’ll see him in the director’s chair.