It’s amazing how great actors reveal shades of characters and draw you in to their world and to their performance. While the script definetly has to offer such opportunities, it is the actor who has to be in that particular moment of the character arc and portray the same. A bit less or bit extra would ruin the moment and actors like Robert De Niro are perfectly aware of that and bring out the portrayal to near perfection, as he did in ‘This boy’s life ‘.
He plays a regular abusive step father, but what’s really out of the world is how he transforms himself into the final avatar before our own eyes.
In the first scene he shows his conceited nature, his eagerness to please. Later he brings out his inabilities and insecurities to the fore in the rifle shoot scene. And then finally his abusive nature in several scenes and how it is a actually a reflection of his inner demons and his incapability to make a mark for himself in the real world. Even when the scenes are repetitive and you kind of know what to expect, he still manages to hold your attention.
It’s easy to play a straight forward cardboard villain where atrocities are out in the open, but very difficult to play someone where the evil actions are projected from what is subdued and lurking inside. Robert De Niro has shown it again and again in several films like ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Cape Fear’, ‘Goodfellas’ etc..but in each of these he somehow succeeds in making these performances stand out as unique and authentic. Of course, ably supported by terrific scripts, master league directors and excellent co-actors, like Leanardo De Caprio in ‘This Boy’s Life’.
Tail piece: The final reveal of the character comes in the climax, when Robert De Niro plays the sissy part so well. Infact, it is the sissies who resort to abuse, knowing the other person is too weak to give it back.