03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Everybody's Fine and the Quiet De Niro

Everybody's Fine offers one of the few Robert De Niro roles in recent memory that doesn't equate acting with histrionics. De Niro is at the center of the film in one of the quietest performances of his career, yet one of the most moving -- the kind that ought to draw Oscar attention.

Written and directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine), adapted from a 1990 Giuseppe Tornatore film that starred Marcello Mastroianni, Everybody's Fine is a compelling character study, constructed as a family drama (though it's being sold in some commercials as a family comedy).

De Niro plays Frank, a retiree and widower who, as the opening credits run, buys the food, drink -- and propane-fueled barbecue -- to host a reunion with his children at his home, an event that never happens. The kids call to beg off at the last minute, despite a feast of steaks and wine that he's put together.

So Frank takes the initiative and buys himself train and bus tickets to go visit them unannounced in their far-flung homes. All of his children are surprised -- but none of them pleasantly, it seems. While they obviously have affection for their father, they just as obviously have no desire to spend time with him, each one cutting short his visit with obvious, even transparent excuses.

The daughter in advertising in Chicago (Kate Beckinsale) seems skittish. The son (Sam Rockwell) who is supposedly an orchestra conductor -- but is found playing percussion with a touring symphony orchestra in Denver -- also seems on edge. And the daughter who Dad thinks is a dancer in Las Vegas has pressing business. We love ya, Dad -- gotta go.

In fact, as the film eventually reveals, they are keeping news from him. Their late mother, they eventually tell him, was the one they could be honest with, the one who would eventually figure out how to tell Dad when something was wrong. But Dad had high expectations that none of them wanted to disappoint. So when they did, they didn't tell him; but now they have to. But how?

Jones finds the pathos and the humor in each of these encounters -- the most moving being the flashes Frank has when he sees one of his kids for the first time. Suddenly he's seeing them as they were -- as 10-year-olds who he could still protect - instead of the adults for whom he can no longer provide the answers in life. Continued...

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