MOVIE REVIEW — The Irishman
Scorsese’s Return to the Gangsters, and More Importantly, the Return of Joe Pesci — ★★★★
It has been nearly an entire month since I first experienced The Irishman at the 28th annual Philadelphia Film Festival (I know, this review has been a long time coming) and while I could have released my review for this film earlier, I wanted to sit with it for a bit, after all, it is three and a half hours. This was the second of five films I got to see at the festival (reviews for the rest can be found here: https://medium.com/@NotVeryProfoundFilm), and on top of that it was a showing at around 9ish, on a Tuesday, on a stormy day, so there were just a lot of things at play. To make this a bit of a shorter story, I made my way to the theater and got in the Rush Tickets line where I met this incredibly nice old woman who I chatted with while waiting before finally (somehow) making it into the showing. Seriously, if you have read any of my reviews from the Film Festival, you should know by now how lucky I got with getting into showings last minute. Martin Scorsese! Okay, I think this review is back on track. The Irishman just released on Netflix at the time of this review being posted, so without further ado, here are my thoughts on Scorsese’s return to the Gangster film.
Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a man with a lot on his mind. The former labor union high official and hitman, learned to kill serving in Italy during the Second World War. He now looks back on his life and the hits that defined his mob career, maintaining connections with the Bufalino crime family, namely through his partnership with Russel Bufalino (Joe Pesci). In particular, the part he claims to have played in the disappearance of his life-long friend, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who mysteriously vanished in late July 1975 at the age of 62.
If you have seen the film, you obviously know that it has a very bold runtime, sitting comfortably (or uncomfortably) at three and a half hours. For most, this is unheard of for a mainstream release, and while that is undeniably true, I can absolutely see why The Irishman is the movie Scorsese chose to give this treatment. Coming in as his new longest film (beating out Silence), the story within is presented more as an epic than your typical Gangster film, spanning decades and showing the effects of time on Frank as he grows older and older, while also serving as a retrospective on his life as the framing device of the film is him reflecting on the past as he is knocking on death’s foreboding door. Robert De Niro knocks it out of the park once again, feeling like a true return for the actor after dabbling in affairs like Dirty Grandpa… let’s just try to forget that one. His performance as hitman Frank Sheeran feels incredibly nuanced, and in a way, endearing despite his clear flaws and criminal nature. Similarly, Al Pacino brings his A-Game as the late Jimmy Hoffa, whom I have no real knowledge on besides what my dad has told me about the man seeing as I was born in 1999. While his performance is less restrained, Pacino connects with the character of Hoffa in such a way that you truly believe everything he says as his narrative unfolds, ultimately gaining the audiences trust and affection with his quick wit and boisterous charisma. Seeing these two act together on-screen again just brought a smile to my face, but at the same time, made me realize that as great as The Irishman is, it will never have anything on Michael Mann’s Heat.
The subtitle of this review mentions Scorsese’s return to the Gangster film, but it also stresses that more importantly this film sees the return of the Wet Bandit himself, Joe Pesci. No, he is not playing his character from Home Alone, but this is his first acting role in several years, as he came out of retirement solely for this film. And rightfully so… HOLY SHIT, I missed Joe Pesci. This man proves just how great he is in every scene of this film, coming off with the most laid back, terrifying performance potentially of his career. No jokes, no outbursts, just playing every scene totally straight and presenting himself as meaning business, he immediately makes this role his own and differentiates it from his previous Scorsese roles in Casino and Goodfellas. Russell Bufalino is the performance to beat here. The scene between De Niro and Pesci in the diner before heading to the airport is so, so, so, so amazing.
Scorsese must have wanted to go out with a bang if this is indeed his final Gangster film, as he managed to snag up several actors from Boardwalk Empire, a show that is not talked about nearly enough. Bobby Cannavale, Jack Huston, and Stephen Graham all have pretty sizable roles throughout the film, with the latter stealing any scene he’s put in, namely the meeting between he and Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa. The supporting cast is great, from those mentioned above, to Anna Paquin as Frank’s estranged daughter, Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino (Frank’s lawyer), the vastly underrated Jesse Plemons as the son of Jimmy Hoffa, and Harvey Keitel, even with his limited role here. Scorsese knows how to use ensemble casts, even when all of them aren’t featured as heavily as others, and I think that’s something showcased here as good as it is in The Departed.
One of the biggest gripes it seemed most people had headed into the film’s release, was the de-aging effects done on the characters throughout, and having seen the finished product I can finally say that it really is not all that distracting. The one scene from the war where they chose to de-age De Niro looks, questionable at best, but the scene is short and doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, opting to not linger on his face much (the right choice). For others, it is the extended runtime, and while I can understand not wanting to put yourself out of commission for three and a half hours, it really is a film that deserves to be seen by everyone. While I would encourage you to set your phone fully aside while watching, that is not feasible for some, so with it streaming on Netflix, should you need to pause the option is there.
I could sit here and tell you how great the cinematography is, or how instantly iconic the soundtrack is, but these are all things we come to expect from Martin Scorsese films. The man is arguably one of, if not the greatest to ever step behind the camera, and The Irishman proves how capable he is even this late in his career. While films like The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence are astoundingly great in their own right, as someone who cherishes Casino and Goodfellas, it feels so good to have one last Scorsese entry into the Gangster genre, with this film even feeling as if it him saying goodbye to a genre he helped reinvigorate in the 1990’s. People don’t make movies like Martin Scorsese makes movies, and that is just a fact of life.
The Irishman is now playing in select theaters around the United States and is also now streaming on Netflix.
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If you are interested, I also got to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire at the Philadelphia Film Festival and wrote up an official review which you can check out here: