Martin Scorsese Birthday Special: From Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, 11 Fantastic Characters That the Legendary Director Has Given Us (LatestLY Exclusive)

Sreeju Sudhakaran
·8-min read

It is strange that, while writing a birthday feature for a director I totally revere, I have to start with a complaint. Despite an illustrious career with several masterpieces or at least, cult favourites, Martin Scorsese has written very few strongly-written female character. The few rare examples that comes to my mind are for Sharon Stone in Casino, Cate Blanchett in The Aviator, Chloë Grace Moretz in Hugo, or Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street. Apart from that, it is difficult to find a very interesting female character in his movies. His latest film, The Irishman, featured Anna Paquin whose role only had her utter merely a line or two. The Irishman Movie Review: A Vintage Martin Scorsese Extracts Brilliant Performances From Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci in Netflix’s Crime Drama.

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But look at all the male characters that he had given us, and there are some absolutely fantastic ones, from nearly every great film he directed - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, et al. On the occasion of Martin Scorsese's 77th birthday, we look at 11 great characters that the director has given through some amazing movies.

Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy

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Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) in The King of Comedy

Played by: Robert De Niro

Expect the great De Niro to appear in this list a couple of times (and so also Leonardo DiCaprio). Starting this list, with an underrated performance in a very underrated Scorsese film, De Niro is a wannabe comedian and a huge Jerry Lewis fan, who kidnaps his idol to seek the fame he thinks this act of crime will get. The King of Comedy got renewed attention when 2019's Joker came out, as fans drew parallels between Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck and De Niro's Pupkin. Robert De Niro Birthday Special: 7 Underrated Films of The Actor Par Excellence That You Need to Check Out Right Now!

Jake Lamotta in Raging Bull

Jake Lamotta (Robert De Niro) in Raging Bull

Played by: Robert De Niro

Called by some fans as an 'anti-Rocky' film, this masterpiece by Scorsese is based on the life of boxer Jake Lamotta. However, instead of harping on his sporting achievements which sports biopic usually do, Raging Bull is rather focussed on the psyche on the man. It delves into his rage issues that leads to some dark areas in his personal and professional life, with De Niro giving a performance of a lifetime (though that adage applies to many performances of his, amazing actor that he is!).

Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver

Played by: Robert De Niro

I assure you that this is not a Robert De Niro appreciation post, though it threatens to be one. But how can we not mention one of the greatest anti-heroes of cinema, Travis Bickle, a character that feels so relevant in present times? A cab driver who wants to keep his street clean of all the vile elements, Bickle doesn't recognise that he is himself seen as one such element by the society. His "You talking to me?" quote while speaking to his mirror reflection has become iconic. Travis Bickle is also an inspiration for Sanjay Dutt's character in Sadak.

Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas

Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) in Goodfellas

Played by: Joe Pesci

If Travis Bickle is one of the greatest anti-heroes, then Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas should be among the greatest villains in cinema. An Italian mobster, what makes DeVito so dangerous, despite his unassuming looks, is his complete unpredictability. In one moment, he might be laughing and joking, and the very next instant, he might be shooting someone dead. And it is this volatile nature that becomes the reason of his doom. Joe Pesci, rightfully, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. Martin Scorsese Birthday Special: 7 Lesser-Talked About but Brilliant Films by The Irishman Director That You Need to Watch Right Away!

Ginger McKenna in Casino

Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) in Casino

Played by: Sharon Stone

Like I wrote before, Scorsese films don't usually have well-written female characters, which is why Ginger McKenna in Casino is such a fantastic exception. While Casino has often been compared with Goodfellas as they share actors De Niro and Pesci and a similar tone, what makes Casino so different is the importance given to Ginger. Stuck in a bored marriage, Ginger finds ways to rebel against her powerful husband, including having an affair, but that only deteriorates her own mental condition, while creating more chaos and leading to a tragic demise for her. Stone got an Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe for her performance. Martin Scorsese Birthday Special: From Goodfellas to Taxi Driver, How the Filmmaker Skillfully Used Tracking Shots (Watch Videos).

Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York

Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Gangs of New York

Played by: Daniel Day-Lewis

Gangs of New York is not considered as one of Scorsese's best films, though it is still a good movie. It is most remembered for the first of the many Scorsese-DiCaprio collabs, and the only time the director worked with the great Daniel Day-Lewis. Bill the Butcher, is a ruthless gang-leader,who has killed the protagonist's father and is now the target of the vendetta saga. But he is a very sly, cunning man, not easy to beat, and knows his enemies' moves even before they plan it out.

Howard Hughes in The Aviator

Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Aviator

Played by: Leonardo DiCaprio

Scorsese has this knack of making memorable characters out of real-life personalities. Like for example, his take on the late Howard Hughes, eccentric innovator, entrepreneur and filmmaker, is as enigmatic and mesmerising as his crime dramas. Both Scorsese and DiCaprio does an excellent job of portraying Hughes' over-ambitious attitude, his OCD and his eventual descent into paranoia.

Colin Sullivan in The Departed

Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) in The Departed

Played by: Matt Damon

The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, has some well-written characters any of whom could have made it to this list. Be it Jack Nicholson's boorish mob boss Frank Costello, DiCaprio's conflicted undercover cop or Mark Wahlberg's foul-mouthed detective. But I feel Matt Damon's two-faced cop Colin Sullivan hasn't gotten the recognition he is due, despite being such a fantastic character. The actual antagonist of the film, Sullivan is very unlikeable, without the need for any showiness. Like a rat. It is the sneakiness of the character that makes him be so, switching sides when it comes to saving his own skin and his luck favouring him at every turn. Till it runs out in the end, and he find himself at the receiving end of a silent bullet.

Edward Daniels in Shutter Island

Edward Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Shutter Island

Played by: Leonardo DiCaprio

A psychological mystery thriller, the movie follows DiCaprio's detective Daniels as he tries to investigate the mysterious happenings in an asylum on a secluded island. As his investigation progresses, he finds out that not everything in the island including the doctors and the inmates are what they seem, while his own mental state seems to be betraying him on occasions. Till he faces his the actual truth that he has been trying to hide away. Jaws, Evil Dead, Basic Instinct, American Pie – 11 Cult Hollywood Movies That Bollywood Dared to Remake and You Never Even Noticed.

Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street

Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET,

Played by: Leonardo DiCaprio

In tone, The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese's funnest film, a film that is about excesses. Excess filth words, excess scenes of drug-intaking, nudity and sex. It is unfairly criticised to glamourise these elements, which is exactly the opposite what Scorsese wanted to show through the exploits of Jordan Belfort, a real-life former tainted Wall Street investor. Through Belfort, Scorsese wanted to portray how his and his fellow brokers' debauched lifestyle is churned out of drilling holes in the economy, and the crime always catches up with the guilty in the end. Like nearly all of his films.

Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman

Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) in The Irishman

Played by: Al Pacino

It is really strange that despite being strongly active in the '80s and the '90s, Al Pacino and Scorsese never got the chance to work with each other, which was rectified in last year's ambitious Netflix offering, The Irishman. While the focus of the film was the rise and decline of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), an enforcer for a powerful mob family, it is with Pacino's entry as the trade union leader Jimmy Hoffa that the film gets a renewed vigor. Scorsese does a terrific job of showing how Hoffa becomes a powerful authority thanks to his association with Sheeran and his boss, Bufalino (Joe Pesci), before the latter felt he was growing bigger for his shoes. His assassination sequence is a highlight in the film, in the way it is so abruptly shot and Pacino's fantastic performance there.