Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano
Released: 8th November 2019 (UK Select Cinemas) 27th November (Netflix)
The Papal Father of Cinema Martin Scorsese has a filmography like no other. His career has now spanned more than 50 years and it appears there is no way of stopping him and it was the closing gala at the 2019 London Film Festival that had the great honour of hosting his latest picture – The Irishman.
Scorsese and Robert De Niro had been planning this project for quite some time as issues with funding, studios and convincing Joe Pesci to come out of retirement kept the project on the backburner. Netflix eventually came on board and Scorsese had his financing. The grand discussion about The Irishman was the notion of de-ageing it’s main stars De Niro, Pesci and Pacino to fit the timeline of the movie. Many cinephiles had questioned this idea, yet can we really question Scorsese?
Bsed on Charles Brandt’s novel ‘I Hear You Paint Houses’ the story follows Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro) a former labour union official and hitman, who learned to kill serving in Italy during the Second World War. Now in a care home, he reflects on his life and the hits that defined his mob career, and his connections with the Bufalino crime family. Particularly, the part he claims to have played in the vanishing of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
Martin Scorsese delivers the full package with The Irishman, he fully covers all the topical themes that his glorious career has been based on. It tackles faith, family, bonds, morality, mortality and corruption. While there is no cohesive message in The Irishman at first glance the last fifteen minutes does pack a punch. You can literally feel Scorsese leaping from the screen and shaking you. It does have a great impact emotionally and the realisation of isolation based on your actions is truly harrowing. Robert De Niro delivers as all great actors do, it’s not a showy approach it’s a raw and touching viewpoint that will stay with you.
A major discussion point of The Irishman is the 210-minute runtime (the longest in Scorsese’s career). While some of Scorsese’s runtimes are rather long, this does enhance the viewing pleasure of his work. The Irishman is no exception; thanks to the immaculate editing and narrative flow it flies by. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is truly flawless – each cut providing structure and order. Scorsese, unfortunately, does let the film doddle at times and the piece becomes rather stodgy because of it. Schoonmaker ensures that these segments are nipped in the bud without attacking Scorsese’s artistic freedom. The duo has worked together for years and you can feel Schoonmaker’s voice in The Irishman too.
Now the de-ageing – in all honesty, it doesn’t hinder the picture at all. Once you have grown to accept this concept you can easily move along. Bobby Cannavale’s hairpiece is far more distracting than De Niro looking 30 years old. This again comes down to Scorsese pushing cinema further and not going down the road of using younger actors in the lead roles. The cast is a quadriology of commanding and poignant performances.
Joe Pesci’s retirement makes you wonder what he could have made. He truly is the standout of The Irishman. For the little guy, he is commanding and controls each scene he is in. There is a wonderful connection and a rapport he has with his inner circle and shows respect goes a long way. Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa is a riot and draws yet another wonderful performance from him. While the world may not actually know much about the man he portrays these days, they will now. The ice cream addict and tardiness hater offers a bizarre comic relief to the film. Pacino hasn’t been this good for quite some time and surely between him and Pesci nominations will follow.
Robert De Niro, on the other hand, can be forgiven for Dirty Grandpa. Frank was a role he was born to play; his career has been monolithic just like Frank’s rise to power. There is a spiritual connection between the two and you can feel De Niro channelling this connection. Anna Paquin while not being utilised to her full capabilities has an interesting part to play. Her judgement of her father is what drives the moral ground throughout The Irishman. A simple glance or stare of judgement chills Frank to the core. Truly you’d wish Scorsese played more of this as it’s such an emotional pull to the film.
The Irishman is a true reflective piece of Martin Scorsese’s body of work. If this were his last film, it would be a tremendous way to finish an outstanding career. Luckily for us, Scorsese won’t be doing this and all we can do is to look forward to the next one.