Chez Bippy, the place where Sonny can usually be founds, some kind of headquarters for his activity, is usually presented with the sounds of Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, as they can be heard in the background. The music is great to put a sound on Sonny's slick approach and style. Any of these singers would be associated both with the shows they were part of and with the general elegant approach to life, as well as with a certain easiness. All of these are things that Robert de Niro wants to pass on to the character that Palmintieri plays. The role of the music in the movie is also relevant with the way the film starts: the sounds of an a cappella group go very well with the image of a Bronx sky at twilight.
One of the interesting approaches of the director is his keen and sometimes microscopic approach to Sonny's universe (as is the case with Lorenzo's too). In that sense, Robert de Niro goes sometimes into detail as he includes elements from that particular universe, including some of Sonny's lieutenants. These are obviously secondary characters, but there are often details about these characters that help in making the audience better understand Sonny's world. Casual characterizations, such as the fact that one of them is so unlucky that he has to go into the bathroom when Sonny rolls the dice are such examples.
As is the case with Lorenzo, Robert de Niro offers Sonny one characterizing line that reflects his own philosophy of life: "nobody really cares!" With this type of nihilistic approach, we are in fact closer to Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," where if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. It is the same with Sonny -- the lack of God in his world is reflected in the statement that nobody really cares. However, it is taken even further than that, because it is a statement that includes not only God, but also the other individuals around him and society as a whole. If none of these elements really care, then the only reporting will be towards one's own individuality. This means that Sonny can, through this relativity, allow himself to do anything, from crime to murder and to the violation of all norms in society.
It is between these two models that Robert de Niro places his unifying character, Calogero, portrayed at age 9 and, later on in the movie, at age 17. Calogero is split between his father's perceptions on life and the fact that they make sense from an ethical perspective and his admiration for Sonny and everything that Sonny brings into his life. Again, it is a matter of charisma that differentiates the two figures, but also what seems to be a different excitement in Sonny's life, the fact that he seems to be involved in so many things, rather than Lorenzo, who performs the same repetitive action of driving the bus throughout his life.
Sonny also seems to offer the right opportunity to avoid such a development and become something else. While Lorenzo offers work as the main instrument in life and offers no other alternative, Sonny presents his own life as an alternative and as something that that Calogero can use to actually escape the endless repetitive acts that dominate his father's life. This is something that Robert de Niro is keen to show throughout the movie and throughout his antithetical presentation of the two adult characters.
As mentioned, Robert de Niro uses Calogero as the bridge between Lorenzo's and Sonny's values and worlds. In Calogero's view, these values could be, potentially, reconciled in his own development. In his opinion, he believes that there are good things to be learnt from both figures and this is his attempt at reconciliation. It is difficult to see this happening, the philosophy of the two being so different. In a similar manner, but at a larger scale, it is also difficult to see the African-American and Italian societies reconciling in the Bronx as the movie is set.
As this paper shows, the movie builds on a traditional mobster movie and employs some very interesting instrument, including acute antithesis, a musical background that either emphasizes the action of the film or brings the viewer's attention to what is going on or plain contrasting between characters, often done in an open and plain manner, without any of the additional instruments previously mentioned here.
Probably the best thing about Robert de Niro's directing approach is that he is able to properly combine all the elements mentioned here into an overall very coherent composition. Except for a certain awkwardness in dealing with the relationship between Jane and Calogero, he is balanced, especially in his descriptions of Lorenzo and Sonny.
1. Ebert, Roger. A Bronx Tale. October 1993. On the Internet at http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19931001/REVIEWS/310010302/1023. Last retrieved on July 25, 2009
2. Maslin, Janet. A Bronx Tale (Movie Review). The New York Times. September 1993. On the Internet at http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9F0CE6DF163DF93AA1575AC0A965958260. Last retrieved on July 25, 2009