Movie Review: Martin Scorsese's The Irishman
The Irishman Movie Review: Martin Scorsese’s newest crime drama, The Irishman, doesn’t reach on Netflix for another month or so. But this reviewer got the opportunity to see the film in Jio MAMI Film Festival 2019, and he just can’t stop fanboying about it. It does feel like once-in-a-blue-moon event when four legends – Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – actually, make that five, if you also consider Harvey Keitel, come together for what is a class act. The Irishman is an epic saga of crime, inspired by real-life events, that is embellished with extraordinary performances and Scorsese back in prime form. The Irishman Movie Review: This Martin Scorsese Flick, Starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Is a Superhit Among the Critics.
The Irishman is based on a book, ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ by Charles Brandt, a memoir of former union official Frank Sheeran aka ‘The Irishman’. When we first see Frank (Robert De Niro), he is quite old, hardly able to walk, and is at a retirement home, narrating his story to an unseen listener, which could be Brandt.
We then go back to the time when a much younger Frank, a World War II veteran, becomes friends with the mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and becomes his righthand man. In their nexus, lands Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) the hotshot union leader, who can turn acerbic and pleasant as deftly as the situation demands. There is another track running parallel that has an older Frank and Russell who go on a road trip with their spouses to attend a wedding, but their real intention is to seal the deal with a former associate once and for all.
The Irishman feels like the trilogy capper of Scorsese crime dramas that also has Goodfellas and Casino, replete with some of the typical Scorsese elements like tracking shots, narration, black humour, and shocking deaths. Yet, even though the film takes you back to the glorious days of Goodfellas. easily Scorsese’s best film, The Irishman is quite the antithesis of that film in its tone and setting. The Irishman: The New Poster of Martin Scorsese’s Netflix Film, Featuring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, Draws Wide Praise on Twitter.
For a change, Martin Scorsese doesn’t make Sheeran’s rise in the mob business look glitzy and glamorous, but rather plays it in a very restrained manner. It is like even if the protagonist is not aware of it, we know the emotional toll his actions are going to have on him later. Which is what makes that very last scene in the film so simple and yet so haunting.
The shocking violence is kept to a minimal level, with the focus being on spending more time in letting its characters converse with each other to create some very mind-blowing sequences. Just watch out for that scene between Jimmy Hoffa and crime boss Anthony Provenzano (an excellent Stephen Graham) in a restaurant, as they argue over tardiness and racism. It is one of the most hilarious scenes in the film.
Or that sequence at Frank’s felicitation ceremony, that becomes a battleground of egos between Hoffa and the crime bosses, beginning the journey of their downfall. Scorsese masterfully alternates between razor-sharp conversations and silent, loaded glances to create a very powerful scene.
Yes, The Irishman is the filmmaker’s longest film at three and a half hours. There are a couple of junctures where you get the feeling that the movie is overstretched. Overall, though, The Irishman earns its long runtime, because it allows its characters and Steven Zaillian’s screenplay to breathe. I have to add here that you need to read up a bit about the characters beforehand, as some of the events may go over your head. There are some heavy connections of the events in the film to the political history of America (JFK’s ascension to power, the attack on Cuba, Robert F Kennedy trying to take down Hoffa). Scorsese doesn’t dumb things down for the viewer; in fact, apart from mentioning the doomed fates of certain characters, he doesn’t even specify in which year the events are taking place.
The cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto) is superb, while the editing (Thelma Schoonmaker) is sharp even with that long runtime. Please learn, Bollywood people, how that’s done. However, the much-talked-about de-aging effect on Niro isn’t that great.
My favourite portion of the film, like with most Scorsese movies, is definitely the final hour, filled with tense, harrowing moments, even if you know how they are going to be played out. These portions also play around the themes of old age and death, an aspect I don’t remember seen being explored much in a Scorsese movie much. Is it why the casting feels so apropos?
Which brings us to the performances. The trifecta of the three lead stars is simply BRILLIANT, no two words about it. Robert De Niro, playing the straight man and the narrator of this messy business, makes Sheeran a man of few words (when he isn’t narrating), especially after Hoffa’s arrival. But he beautifully allows his expressions and reactions to convey his emotions. It is the final hour where Robert De Niro is excellent, as he emotionally struggles pre and post what he has to do with Hoffa, and yet not repenting enough to earn our validation.
Joe Pesci doesn’t go the psychotic way as he did in his Oscar-winning turn in Goodfellas, but he underplays his character smartly to create a powerful aura around his mob boss. The scene-stealer in the film, though, is none other than Al Pacino.Watch him fire a room of people, that way only Pacino can do, and then go out and pacify Frank, whom he unintentionally slighted in the process. It is his finest performance in years, as the actor balances his theatrics and understatedness to make Hoffa one of the most memorable characters of Pacino. He also has the best lines and walks away with the best scenes, mostly so because he owns them with consummate ease.
Watch The Trailer of The Irishman:
After that one brilliant sequence in Michael Mann’s Heat (I will forget Righteous Kill ever happened), it is a treat to see Niro and Pacino have so many wonderful scenes between them, making their final sequence so abrupt and yet so poignant. I could clearly see Oscar nominations for these three actors, with Pacino having a high chance of winning Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor.
The supporting cast, even in their brief roles, is all on good form. Harvey Keitel as crime boss Angelo Bruno, who is mostly seen in the first half, is brilliant in that restaurant scene with Pesci and Niro. Ray Romano as Russell’s cousin and lawyer Bill Bufalino is suitably hilarious. Anna Paquin, whose character of being one of Frank’s daughters is mostly a silent witness to the personalities of her father, Bufalino and Hoffa, has perhaps just one line, but that scene is so emotionally fraught. Bobby Cannavale, Domenick Lombardozzi, Jim Norton play their parts well. The only little disappointment is that Jesse Plemons, who was so fantastic in Netflix’s El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, is underused here.
PS: Is it me or did the BG theme during the scene where Pesci and Niro talk in Italian paying an ode to The Godfather, arguably the greatest gangster movie ever made?
– Almost Everything Here, From Acting, Directing, The Frames, The BG Score and The Editing!
– Slight Lag Due to the Length
– Need Some Awareness of American History of That Era
– The De-aging Effects Aren’t That Great
Martin Scorsese has claimed that The Irishman would be his last film based on the crime world. If that’s the case, then the film is a perfect capper to his trilogy, harking back to the glory days of Goodfellas. It has all the elements to make the vintage Scorsese fan feel giddy in elation. Not to mention, the fabulous union of three fine actors in top form. Don’t be discouraged by the runtime of the film; they just don’t make movies like this anymore.
(While The Irishman gets a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, in the USA, Indian viewers can catch on Netflix where it streams from November 27).