Monday, November 18, 2019

The Irishman - Review

Here it is. The film that has been on the top of a lot of people’s most anticipated lists for quite some time. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s a Martin Scorsese film, one of the greatest directors to ever do it. It’s got three of the best actors of all time in the cast. Oh, and it just happens to be a technological undertaking unlike anything Scorsese has done before with de-aging done throughout a majority of the runtime. Now the question is: does it all work? Yes, so much so that it almost seems easy.

In the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) gets involved with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) -- a powerful Teamster tied to organized crime.

Martin Scorsese has made his fair share of crime films, from Mean Streets to Goodfellas, and a few minor dips into the well along the way. In many ways, The Irishman feels like the third part in some trilogy of mob movies that are only connected by their grizzly violence and striking tones. But whereas other films in Scorsese’s filmography revel in the violence, there is certain layer of regret to what’s depicted in The Irishman. In fact, the whole thing feels like a meditation on the effects of crime over a life, work done by a director nearing the end of his career and infusing his knowledge into one last venture into the underbelly of society.

Having the cast of De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino certainly doesn’t hurt either. The three have made their mark on the world of Hollywood, in more ways than one, and are three of the most celebrated actors of their generation. Pacino returns to a project worthy of his talents and it shows, even if he does wind up as the weakest of the three performances. Pesci gets far less to do than either of the others, but he operates in a silent way, overseeing much of the actions that take place, maintaining a sense of calm that could quickly fade at any moment. And then there is De Niro.
Robert De Niro as an actor has been known for his ability to blow up, shout, and be generally irate when the scene calls for it. Even the dreadful comedies he’s been wrapped up in over the last decade or two have relied on the audience’s knowledge that De Niro is supposed to be an angry person. Here, De Niro largely ditches his usual demeanor of gruff, grumpy and intense for a much more quiet, subdued, and later, somber performance. It’s a joy to see, and a nomination seems imminent.

Making a three and a half hour movie work is not simple. The story has to earn the runtime, and each subsequent hour has to maintain the audience’s attention more than the last. For the most part, The Irishman is edited extremely well by Thelma Schoonmaker, and it’s fair to say it's one of the easiest three and half hour sittings you’ll find. With that said, it still feels like some moments could’ve been trimmed off, particularly near the end, as there are beats that feel repetitive or unnecessary. And yet, it still feels like the frontrunner for a lot of editing awards will be this film, just for the audacity and size of its story and the cohesion that it has overall.

The Irishman is an interesting film from top to bottom. It’s a film that attempts to de-age multiple actors for extended periods of time, and mostly succeeds, you just have to adjust to the whole look initially. The film is lead by three solid performances, all for very different reasons, and all worthy of the eventual awards attention they’ll receive. It’s likely among Scorsese’s best works, though not the best on first watch, and most people will watch it from their couch while they look at their phone every ten minutes. Take this advice, see it on a big screen if you can, you won’t regret it.

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