Aging Ford, De Niro expose actors’ shelf life

Ben Conniff

After seeing “Ender’s Game” this weekend, audiences were exposed to an inconvenient truth — some of our most beloved actors are seriously losing their luster.

Harrison Ford’s last, best film before “Ender’s Game” was this spring’s “42,” in which the actor gave a stellar portrayal of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey.

Prior to this year, Ford’s most commercially well-received film of the past decade was “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in 2008, which wasn’t even that good.

Before that, you have to go back to Ford’s work in the mid-to-late 1990s in order to find successful films that won over both critics and audiences alike.

I’m thinking “Air Force One,” “The Fugitive” and his turns as Jack Ryan in “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games.”

The reason Ford has remained so popular is that nearly every movie he made during the 1980s is considered a classic today.

But since then, he’s been woefully hit-or-miss.

Sadly, the same can be said for Robert De Niro.

Through the late 1970s and ‘80s, the man could do no wrong, consistently appearing in classic films like “Taxi Driver,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull” and “The Untouchables.”

Much of his success can be attributed to Martin Scorsese, a director with whom De Niro has frequently collaborated.

The last time Scorsese directed De Niro in a film was in 1995’s enthralling violent crime saga, “Casino.”

Since then, the two have voiced characters together in DreamWorks’ “Finding Nemo” knockoff “Shark Tale” and collaborated as actor and executive producer on Luc Besson’s mob comedy, “The Family.”

Since neither of those films has lived up to their previous successes together, it’s clear Scorsese needs to keep his seat in the director’s chair when De Niro is on the other side of the camera.

The problem with De Niro when he’s not working with Scorsese is that he rarely makes films worth seeing anymore.

Over the past decade, he’s only made three solid films – “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Limitless” and “Stardust.”

But for each one of these hits, there’s a “Big Wedding,” “Righteous Kill,” or unnecessary “Meet the Parents” sequel.

Aging stars like Ford and De Niro need to take a page from Morgan Freeman when selecting future projects.

Pick something with a strong story and good characters before worrying about what the paycheck looks like.

“The Dark Knight,” “Invictus” and “Bruce Almighty” have allowed Freeman to make affecting turns that stick with audiences long after the credits roll.

That being said, these aging players need to watch out for the emergence of “New Hollywood,” a regime of talented, young actors and filmmakers currently taking the industry by storm.

With the critical and commercial success that stars like Benedict Cumberbatch and Jennifer Lawrence are now earning, maybe it’s time for guys like Ford to hang up the fedora and De Niro the boxing gloves.