Thoughtful, especially in the third act of this three-and-a-half-hour epic, often means melancholic. The Irishman is a gangster flick wary of its very identity, transforming its violence from its starting point of being a classic Scorsese movie into a sad, tragic retrospective on human morality.
Best Reviewed Movies of 2019
The Irishman’s script, from the legendary Steven Zaillian, spans decades. We follow real-life mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) from the 1950s to the early 2000s, with the plot largely depicting his time working first for Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and eventually notorious American labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). With the story sometimes jumping years from scene to scene, relationships between the three ebb and flow largely without much internal conflict for the first two acts. Frank is merely their muscle, and the script is much more focused on developing the relationships he shares with his two bosses, as well as his deteriorating relationship with his family. Naturally, a lot of the work comes down to the actors.
But Scorsese has an ambitious trick up his sleeve. The much-reported digital de-aging of De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino takes a few scenes to get used to, but it’s never as distracting as it has been in any of the Marvel films or the over-animated reconstruction of Peter Cushing in Rogue One. Here, it’s merely a matter of acknowledging that it, for the most part, looks fantastic (personally, I found it unnoticeable in Pacino’s face, but De Niro’s youngest version took some suspension of disbelief at the start) and then letting the story and the performances wash over you. And well, this cast is the stuff of legend.
Watch the trailer for The Irishman:As Frank, De Niro is largely our abiding lead, not unlike Ray Liotta’s charismatic turn in Goodfellas. In the first hour, it’s Pesci who controls the flow of the film with a searing yet quiet terror built into his mostly motionless face. But once Jimmy Hoffa gets his introduction, Pesci hands control over to Pacino for a time. In his first collaboration with Scorsese, the Scarface and Godfather star simply does what he does best.
Pacino is incendiary in some moments, screaming at the top of his lungs in the way only Pacino can, and capable of incredible human depth in others (it might surprise you how often Jimmy Hoffa eats ice cream in his pajamas throughout the film). The third act sees Pesci and Pacino vying for control in some of the most electric scenes Scorsese has directed in a long while. But before the end, The Irishman necessarily becomes De Niro’s film, and right when he needs to, he opens Frank’s heart to us, just a crack, and knocks it out of the park.
For more on Scorsese, find out how he contributed to the Joker in the interview below:Fun supporting roles go to Ray Romano and Bobby Cannavale, both of whom would fit perfectly into Mean Streets or Goodfellas were they made today. Through them, Scorsese finds something of a comfort zone to ground The Irishman’s lofty ideas in. It’s important to note that he and Zaillian have no difficulty making the film a joy to watch. At three and a half hours, there are naturally some pacing problems, but this epic is never boring. The genre’s sense of humor, designed by Scorsese in the first place, still rings true, and the story whizzes by for the most part, even if a couple of transitions between eras could have been realized with a little more zest and clarity.
But the editing is crisp and the cinematography engaging and purposeful. The Irishman is a balancing act only a master like Scorsese can make look easy. But it doesn’t stay easy. Though it’s always entertaining, the film really only comes together in the sublime final 30 minutes. It’s when the story is seemingly over that it becomes a challenging reckoning of the soul, asking us to ruminate in that question of “Why?” Why did any of this have to happen? What was it all for? The great tragedy, Scorsese seems to be saying, is that most of us find out too late.