By Adam Ray Palmer
Having digested this movie over the last few weeks, thinking deeply about Scorsese’s latest epic, I thought I’d finally share some thoughts.
It’s been three years since Marty’s last feature, and The Irishman couldn’t be more different to Silence in narrative. But when Scorsese called up his mates, they couldn’t turn down a reunion…
Based on the book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt, The Irishman centres on the story of Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a hitman and henchman struggling to survive in a life full peppered with crime, largely revolving around the mysterious disappearance of teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) in the 1970s.
The film is a feat in cinematic technology and craft. The narrative is told through flashbacks featuring digitally de-aged versions of DeNiro and Pesci. A lot of the praise here should be directed to the production crew at the Star Wars effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic. This movie has been nine years in the making, with the final year largely being down to the de-aging process, but also because a lot the hurdles needed to be jumped over. Netflix were the only production company to back Scorsese with the big budget, and he only wanted to make the movie with his long-time colleagues Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino. The is probably the last organised-crime movie these guys will work together on, so saviour it… but at nearly four hours long, there’s a lot to saviour!
For me, it’s the middle segments to this epic that really connect. When Sheeran is in his mid-thirties, Pesci’s Bufalino is his mentor and boss. It’s their scenes that really elevate this movie to a more emotional level. Scorsese’s direction is less about the brutality of the Mafia, but more about the fragility of a mobster’s trust.
For example, when Pacino’s Hoffer is recommended to take Sheeran as his minder, the trust Hoffa puts in Frank is quite literally, brotherly. When they share a hotel suite, Hoffa leaves his bedroom’s door ajar, representing a ‘watched man’s’ trust and faith in his enforcer. Then, 28 years later after Hoffa is murdered, Sheeran is in a care home’s bedroom with his door ajar on his last night alive. Is this a tribute to his former employer? Or man who is riddled with guilt and inviting death? Or a former bodyguard having a view to a potential attacker? Either way, the fragility of Sheeran is visually clear.
It’s these sporadic, yet intentional, scenes that make this one of Scorsese’s best pictures for years. The movie is layered with multiple components that could have made this movie so possible to mess up, but a genius like Scorsese not only challenged himself, but definitely delivered. The timeline of stories, the technical side of the de-aging and of course working with the irreplaceable trifecta of De Niro, Pesci and Pacino; Marty was working with a lot on his plate.
The latter of the aforementioned list needs a mention. The performances from the trio are fantastic. They effortless slips between tender, intimate talks with each other to full-blown outrage with a flick of a switch is truly a delight to watch. De Niro, in my opinion, has fell short at award season recognition against his counterparts is due to one reason. Sheeran is the straight man between Pesci’s subtle and captivating performance and Pacino’s loud and confrontational role. De Niro, through no fault of his own, struggles to stand out in their movie defining scenes.
On the whole, The Irishman is a huge accomplishment for all involved. It’s certainly one of the biggest movies Netflix has ever made, it’s also an overdue passion project for Scorsese and the technical side to this film alone is astounding. I just hope the run time doesn’t put people off, because it’s so much more than a gangster flick.
The final 15 minutes when De Niro is all alone feel at a snail’s pace compared to the rest of the feature. His betrayal and guilt have torn him up so much that he has become a hollow, frail shadow of himself. Whilst this is just one story, it feels much more like a narrative to thousands of gangsters’ isolated final days. This move kicks off as spiritual sequel to Goodfellas, but evolves into a nostalgic, tender drama with profound messages.
Cineroom’s rating: 4.5 stars
The Irishman is out now on Netflix worldwide – certificate 18