TV loves movie stars and movie stars love awards and validation. Wednesday night on PBS, Jeff Bridges officially gets designated an "American Master" in Gail Levin's profile The Duke Abides. Come Sunday, Robert De Niro is scheduled to receive career achievement honors at the Golden Globes.
They are the yang and yin of the movies, the laidback Californian and the in-your-face New Yorker. I never would have thought to see the low-key Bridges, 61, and highly-strung De Niro, 67, in the same sentence. Then I heard Joan Allen, Bridges' co-star in Tucker and The Contender, reflect upon Bridges' 40 years of movies in The Duke Abides to the effect that who would have predicted that this surfer dude would be absolutely as great an actor as those New York Method guys? (Obviously she meant De Niro and Al Pacino.)
Bridges is wireless; De Niro wired. There's only one Bridges role I can imagine De Niro playing (the airline-crash survivor in Fearless). And there's only one De Niro role I can imagine Bridges playing (the revived coma patient in Awakenings). Both actors worked for Michael Cimino: Bridges got Heaven's Gate; De Niro The Deer Hunter. Both worked for Francis Ford Coppola: Bridges got Tucker; De Niro Godfather II.
For me, the question isn't Bridges or De Niro. (Each is unique, incomparable, irreplaceable.) The question about the Dude and the Mook is how they differently achieve their effects, how they differently managed their careers.
Bridges is as an actor who finds a little of himself in each character he plays, and because of this is very relatable. De Niro is one who loses himself in his character, and because of this is one of a kind. Bridges simmered as the none-too-bright boxer in Fat City; De Niro seethed as Raging Bull. Bridges is the tortoise to De Niro's hare. The older he gets, the more Bridges invests himself in his characters; the older he gets, the more De Niro invests his paychecks at the bank. One makes True Grit, the other Little Fockers. (That said, last year De Niro also made the underseen Stone, and was riveting.)
Admire them both enormously. Still, if there were complete Bridges and De Niro retrospectives at the same multiplex, bet there'd be more I wanted to see at the Bridges. You?