Question, how often are you inspired to see a new film simply because of the name of the director attached to it? It’s fair to say that the majority of us rarely are, simply because star power tends to be something infant of the camera rather than behind it. That is, of course, unless the director happens to have a surname like Spielberg, Tarantino, Lynch, maybe even Burton or Nolan. There are only a handful of directors these days that have true household name status, and Martin Scorsese is absolutely one of them. From Taxi Driver to Goodfellas to even things like Gangs Of New York and The Aviator, the work of Scorsese has been an important presence in my love affair with film. Cut to 2019 and I get to experience his latest heavyweight release from the comfort of my own couch thanks to Netflix. 2019 is wild!
Bringing together all of his iconic themes and all of his iconic collaborators, Scorsese’s The Irishman is an American crime epic that tells the multi generational story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman for the crime family of Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Incorporating cutting edge de-aging effects to present a decades long tale of crime and corruption, the film tells an inspired by true events story that covers moments including the assassination of JFK in the 1960s and the disappearance of famous labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) in the 1970s.
The stories told and themes explored in The Irishman are nothing that lovers of Scorsese and mobster movies won’t have seen before, but the joy of the experience is in the sense that as you are watching, you feel 100% content in the fact that this is a grade A, top of its game version of the thing that you love. This type of narrative is very much in Scorsese’s wheelhouse, and the same can be said for all the case involved. What I was more curious about was seeing whether the presence of the de-again CGI was going to be a help or a hindrance.
And for the most part, I’m pleased to say I didn’t notice it at all. As one might imagine, the younger De Niro gets, the more ‘computer game’ things start to look, but the majority of the picture plays out in middle age to elderly years that don’t feel like a stretch at all. I’m excited to see where this technology can take us, as switching out young and old actors in biopics has always been a personal pet peeve of mine.
There’s no getting away from the fact that The Irishman is three and a half hours long, and it certainly feels it. What prevents perfection here for me is a slight touch of overindulgence in the story telling. At least half an hour could have been trimmed with no detriment to the narrative, but to be honest, who at this point, is going to tell Martin Scorsese that he could perhaps do without this scene or that scene? If you have the patience to watch over two hundred minutes worth of movie in one sitting, then you might as well do it with an immersive crime epic that feels like a greatest hits compilation from the world’s best super group.
And what a super group it is! We’ve got Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, it’s literally a dream cast for any movie, let alone a mobster movie. Each of these actors brings a certain history and weight of expectation to the genre with them, and they certainly don’t disappoint. For all the moaning about Marvel that Scorsese has done in the past few months, he sure has assembled his own team of Avengers here!
As Frank, Robert De Niro is at his stoic mobster best. Much like the film in general, his performance isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before, but when De Niro is in his element as he is here, he’s an absolute delight. The same can be said for Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino’s career of late is one that constantly verges on parody, but there is a restraint and respect in his performance here that sees him at is modern day best.
Star of the show for me though is Joe Pesci as family boss Russell Bufalino. Pesci came out of semi retirement for this part, and I’m so glad that he did because he gives arguably the best performance of the group, which is really saying something.
The entire film is a smorgasbord of effortless ability from Ray Romano to Stephen Graham to Harvey Keitel to Bobby Cannavale. When Oscar winner Anna Paquin has a role with a total of maybe five lines, you know that the talent is stacked ridiculously deep!
Overall, I can’t sit here and say that The Irishman is revolutionary in its themes or story telling, but it’s certainly a crime epic that comfortably sits alongside the established heavy hitters of the genre, many of which share its masterful director! Ambitious in scale of story and ambitious in its use of innovative CGI effects, the film is a welcome return to form for many of its iconic cast. Ultimately, it’s just great to see these guys doing what they do best, even if the running time is a test all of its own!