De Niro Wants to Direct Again

Robert De Niro  | The Shipping News  | Sundance Film Festival

De Niro Wants to Direct Again

It's not enough for Robert De Niro to be the savior of downtown New York and considered one of the world's best actors.

Now I'm told that De Niro is planning to go back behind the camera again and direct a new movie. According to sources, De Niro will direct Jude Law in a film called The Good Shepherd. The CIA spy story, about an older spy and a younger one, will be produced by his Tribeca Productions, the same company that made the hits Analyze This and Meet the Parents.

De Niro himself would play the older spy, a secondary role.

The actor hasn't directed a film since A Bronx Tale, the movie that made Chazz Palminteri a name actor in the early '90s.

But before he can make The Good Shepherd, De Niro still has a pair of sequels to make. First will come Analyze That, followed by Meet the Fockers.

More recently, De Niro has been devoting his energies to getting customers back to downtown Manhattan since Sept. 11. He and producing partner Jane Rosenthal have sponsored a number of dinners in Little Italy, Chinatown and Wall Street. In May he and Rosenthal will host the first annual Tribeca Film Festival.

Shaping Up The Shipping News

I've talked a lot here in the last few days about awards and movies that might get them. One movie that probably won't win any Oscars this year is Lasse Hallstrom's The Shipping News. Hallstrom, whom readers of this column know is one of my personal favorite directors, has made some astonishingly good movies: The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, My Life as a Dog, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape are among them. The first two were Oscar nominees in back-to-back years. So everyone expected the same thing from Shipping News.

But unreal high expectations are the first thing that can kill interest in any movie. Indeed, everyone in the entertainment press was asking through the fall, "Where is The Shipping News?" We wanted to see it, and when we didn't, tongues began to wag.

What we didn't know is that Hallstrom was thwarted in his editing process by the events of Sept. 11. Additionally, he had a slight case of atrial fibrillation, an irritating but treatable heart condition that doesn't make you feel like working very hard until it's fixed. And then of course there was the fact that he'd made three movies in three years.

When The Shipping News was first shown to critics, and then premiered in Los Angeles, a lot of people thought it was slow. Another complaint was that if you hadn't read Annie Proulx's award-winning novel, you didn't know what was going on in the first few minutes of the movie.

So Miramax decided to re-edit the movie before it premiered in New York. I thought this was a nutty idea. Certainly the critics who'd already seen the film weren't going to come back and see it again. Their initial impressions were made.

Of course, David Ansen in Newsweek liked the original version and gave it three stars. But what about the others?

What the critics who didn't go back to the revised Shipping News missed was this — the movie really did change. Audiences who started going on Christmas Day liked it, which was contrary to the medium cool buzz in New York among the press.

Now it's the third weekend for Shipping News and exit polls — conducted by research outfits for all movies — suggest that the movie has a life after all. And it should. Shipping News is not action-packed, that's for sure. But it has a lot of things going for it, more than those going against it.

For one thing, it's absolutely beautiful to watch. The cinematography is spectacular; Oliver Stapleton has made St. John's, Newfoundland, a place that can be quite forbidding, into a gorgeous landscape.

Second, the script by Robert Nelson Jacobs, who also wrote Chocolat, has done an excellent job translating the novel into film. What was added in the revised film only underscored that — the new narrations at the beginning and end now frame the story that Jacobs laid out. You can actually figure out what's going on as the movie unfolds.

Jacobs, by the way, was just nominated for a screenplay award called the Scripter.

The acting in Shipping News is a different story. Kevin Spacey tries hard to bring Quoyle, Proulx's central character, to life. His success is an up-and-down deal. Sometimes he seems like he's got it, and sometimes it feels as though he's faded into the Newfoundland mist. His best scenes are with Judi Dench as his crusty no-nonsense aunt. He does less well with Julianne Moore, who seems to be waiting for someone else to come along while she's in scenes with him.

Strangely enough, the best characters in Shipping News are the secondary ones: Scott Glenn is terrific as the owner of the local newspaper and Pete Postlethwaite really connects as the editor whom Quoyle's presence upsets. And of course, Judi Dench, the truffle oil of actresses, can do no wrong. Right from the beginning you want to know what Agnis' story is, and this eventually pays off.

Look: Not every movie released Christmas week is stamped ready-for-awards. Some of them are just good, entertaining movies. Whether or not it gets awards, anything by Lasse Hallstrom is worth seeing. The Shipping News is no exception.

Sundance Begins in Earnest

The stars are trickling into the Sundance Film Festival. Already spotted around town were Fox TV star Donal Logue, who had a hit here two years ago with The Tao of Steve. Actor David Morse — from St. Elsewhere, The Green Mile and Sean Penn movies — was seen grocery shopping. The buzz about possible appearances by Nicole Kidman, Mariah Carey, Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, and others has started, which is always a good sign.

Today, the first full day of films included the now-infamous Project Greenlight movie, Stolen Summer. This one is the million-dollar debut project that's the basis of the HBO series. Needless to say, everyone wants to see it. Also on for today, Lisa Kudrow's possible breakout-of-Friends film, Bark.

Tomorrow, the results …