Robert De Niro received his fifth Oscar nomination for portraying Leonard Lowe in Awakenings.
Awakenings tells the story of a Dr. Sayer (Robin Williams) who uses an experimental drug on catatonic patients who all suffered from encephalitis, which awakens them from there catatonic state.
Robert De Niro portrays one the catatonic patients. Roles like these are commonly the type that are made fun of and mocked as being overly awards baiting when an actor must portray a physical and mentally effecting disease, and there certainly is reason for that. When a big time actor or star like De Niro it is rather difficult to take them seriously as an actual person suffering from such aliments unless they actually are extremely good. In these sort of roles it always seems that it works better if you do not know the actors as well, and that way it seems less actory, since frankly the other actor portraying the part seem just a little less obviously acting.
This also might come from the fact that De Niro does not always seem convincing enough for some reason, perhaps it is his earlier roles, or even his role from the same year in Goodfellas, but when De Niro is sitting in the wheel chair in his catatonic state he looks frankly like he has this evil stare going and that he planning on murdering Robin Williams. I guess there are too many ways too look catatonic but there just seems to be something off about the way De Niro does it.
Robert De Niro is allowed to do more when Leonard is the first patient awakened by the experimental drug. De Niro attempts his best I suppose in first showing how his body is adjusting to the drug, but still I never really believed that he was really a patient, I did see always an actor attempting to look like a patient rather than the real deal. I'm not sure if any actor could have been completely believable, but De Niro most certainly is not anyways.
De Niro does improve for the short period where Leonard finally seems to exhibit no symptoms. De Niro portrays him as a quiet man, who is much younger mentally than he is physically. He actually does this fairly well, as well as his slightly withdrawn in enthusiasm in enjoying life, which Leonard has not been able to do for a long time. He is good in these small amount of scenes, although I can't say amazing because of what comes later basically takes always what good he does here.
Leonard soon becomes angry over not being able to leave the hospital without supervision, and becomes paranoid over it. De Niro over does it here especially since he sort of forgets that he was originally trying to portray the difference in mental and physical age, and here he basically stops doing that. Also he stops doing a lot of mannerisms that become more and more severe as time goes on.
These mannerisms really make his mannerisms earlier in the film seem brilliant. Every time he does them it just looks a little too much like "I'm Acting!!!". I couldn't believe his early mannerisms, and I really could not believe these for a second. They all just seem a bit calculated for me, and they certainly do not amount to an interesting type of performance, even though it is the type the academy seems to like.
I was never able to believe in his character, because it always seemed like De Niro acting exercise than a real person having these problems. I will admit though these types of performances rarely impress me to begin with, but they really do not impress me when they seem off, and De Niro does seem off especially near the end. De Niro is not entirely terrible though because of his scenes in the middle of his performance, it definitely could have been worse, but he really always underwhelmed me with his performance in this film.