Robert De Niro Delivers Career-Best Performance In New Heartfelt R-Rated Drama

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Published

Robert De Niro Ezra

Ezra is another Bleecker Street hit, with a star-studded cast and a winning director. While it struggles at times, it’s worth a trip to the theater to see Bobby Cannavale and Robert De Niro in Ezra. 

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro Ezra

I happened to catch a trailer of this film a few months back, so when I was preparing for my usual Tuesday night film, I knew I wanted to see it. I had recently seen Robert De Niro in Killers of the Flower Moon and About My Father, two very different roles, both from each other and from his role in Ezra.

I recently saw him in an interview with Bill Maher on Maher’s show Real Time on Max, and Maher asked De Niro how he chooses his films. De Niro says it depends. “If Marty (Scorcese) asks me to do a film, I just go. I don’t even ask questions.”

The Story

Ezra is a film centered on a father’s struggle to advocate for his autistic son. Bobby Cannavale plays Max Brandel, a stand-up comedian about to make it big. His son, Ezra, is of middle school age, and is having trouble in public school, where the teachers and administrators have deemed him a danger to himself and others.

Ezra lives with his mother, Max’s estranged wife, Jenna, played by Cannavale’s real life wife, Rose Byrne. Robert De Niro plays Max’s father, the grandfather to Ezra, also known as “Pop Pop.” 

Things Get Complicated

Robert De Niro Ezra

One night, Ezra overhears his mother and her boyfriend, Bruce, played in a cameo by the director of the film, Tony Goldwyn. Bruce jokingly says he’ll kill Max for Jenna, and Ezra, taking this statement as truth, runs out into the New York City night to warn his father.

He runs in front of a car and almost gets hit. Now, Max is declared a ward of the state, and the state wants to medicate him.

Cannavale convincingly plays the furious father unwilling to drug his son. The audience watches as Robert De Niro plays the patriarch trying to help his own son, and Ezra gets caught in the middle of it all. 

All About Advocacy

Max decides the best thing to do would be to “kidnap” his son and take him on a road trip. What is so magical about this film is that, for all of its awkward moments, it really is a tale of parental advocacy, of fathers and mothers wanting what’s best for their kids.

Cannavale and Byrne play off of each other with spectacular chemistry and angst, and Robert De Niro digs deep for emotions in Ezra that I have watched him only rarely draw upon in his earlier years. 

In Theaters Now


Typically, I’m used to seeing De Niro be the tough guy, the bad guy, the villain, or the badass, but there are these few beautiful roles where we get to see the soft underbelly hidden beneath the hard exterior. The Intern, where he starred with Anne Hathaway, was the first time I had begun to glimpse this side of his acting, and then again in About My Father. Finally, I watched Robert De Niro hit it out of the park in Ezra as he showed his son and grandson both love and regret. It was, in a word, moving.