A fascinating and melancholic look at life by one of the master filmmakers of his generation.
When I first discovered that Martin Scorsese’s new film The Irishman was going to clock in at a mammoth runtime of 209 minutes, I was momentarily shocked. I then came to the conclusion that if the film is this length, it’s for a reason and it will more than likely earn its runtime. Despite the new film being available on Netflix, I decided to take the opportunity to watch it in the cinema, something I had never done with a Scorsese film, and it was quite an experience.
The Irishman is a 2019 biographical drama, directed by Martin Scorsese, about Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a Mafia hitman and former WW2 soldier. It progresses seamlessly through four stages of his life centered around his involvement with the Bufalino family (including Russell Bufalino played by Joe Pesci) and the disappearance of the union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), which still looms large as one of America’s longest-standing unsolved mysteries.
That premise in itself should be enough to grab the attention of many potential viewers, not to mention the prospects of another Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci team up. It’s fair to say that the best aspects of this film might be in the simplest moments, where these legendary actors are on screen together just exchanging dialogue, each with a commanding presence that automatically makes these characters interesting and worth watching.
If we were to offer particular praise, it would be aimed towards the powerfully reserved De Niro as well as the scene-stealing and often hilarious Pacino. Similarly to De Niro, Joe Pesci also provides a quiet and restrained performance, a complete juxtaposition to his beloved performance in Goodfellas, another on the growing list of Scorsese crime epics. Despite the differences, Pesci excellently carries the weight of his character and all three of these heavy hitters should be in Oscar contention come awards season.
In order to tell this tale spanning six decades, Scorsese makes use of de-ageing technology to show these characters at the different stages of their life. While arguably being distracting on a couple of occasions, with one scene set in WW2 being the most obvious example, this technology weaves its way into the story rather than being jarring and taking us out of the film.
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the film takes its time. But in many ways, it is both earned and arguably necessary. The film’s final act is slow, methodical but at the same time memorably haunting and as the credits role and the sound of The Five Satins’ ‘In the Still of the Night’ comes on, it’s difficult not to be moved by what has just been put on screen.
Rather than glorifying this particular kind of lifestyle, the incredibly evocative final shot shows the stark outcome that comes with committing crimes of this manner. In the end, we are left with a fascinating and melancholic look at life by one of the master filmmakers of his generation.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel
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