People are calling ‘Avengers: Endgame’ the most ambitious movie of 2019. Personally, I think this has taken that spot.
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, and Stephen Graham, ‘The Irishman’ is the latest feature film and passion project from legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
It follows Frank Sheeran (Rober De Niro), as he recalls his days as a mob hitman for Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his crime family, as well as his relationship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Being a huge Scorsese fan, I was extremely excited for ‘The Irishman’. With Joe Pesci coming out of retirement and Scorsese bringing some of the biggest names in the movie industry together on-screen for what could the last time, you can see why many like myself were excited about this three-and-a-half-hour crime epic. Even though it wasn’t in any cinemas close to me, I sat down and watched the whole thing on Netflix (the first time Scorsese has used the streaming platform to showcase his art). I can tell you now that this film alone makes the price of a Netflix subscription worth it!
Straight up, this is easily one of the most beautiful films in Scorsese’s excellent career. This a man who has been making films for around 50 years, and they are still on a level of high quality, just like they were back in the 70s. He’s one of, if not the only filmmaker who has kept making such high-quality films for such an extended period, and that is one reason why ‘The Irishman’ feels like pure cinema.
I can already hear you saying, “But Andy, it’s a three-and-a-half-hour movie with a lot of talking. I haven’t got that much time in a day to watch it!” Firstly, I’m sure you’ve spent days upon days binging through TV shows, or you’re currently half-way through your ninth re-watch of the US version of ‘The Office’, so I’m sure you can watch this in a day. Look, it’s on Netflix, so you can have a break or two. Trust me, it’s not meant to be watched as a miniseries, even if you have seen those “Irishman as a miniseries” guides getting around. It ruins the pacing of the film if you do it in four instalments, so please listen to me and watch it properly. Anyway, I’ll move on.
Unlike most of Scorsese’s other crime films such as ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’, or even ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, he doesn’t glorify the mafia lifestyle here. Instead, he approaches it from an angle that we saw glimpses of in his last film ‘Silence’. He approaches it with a sense of mortality. Every time we are introduced to a new character, we get a freeze-frame with their name and the circumstances of their eventual death. But what Scorsese also does here with the theme of mortality is how he handles the main set of characters. With the film spanning from the 1940s to the early 2000s, we watch as the characters grow old and weak. With the help of the digital de-aging technology used here (I will talk about this shortly), we get a crime epic that is almost in the same vein as ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ from Sergio Leone.
Every action undertaken by these characters doesn’t always lead to great things. Sure they may be living an extravagant lifestyle while they are in their prime, but as they grow old and weary, they begin to understand the actual costs of living a life of crime. The characters begin to regret some of their choices, and it leads to a thought-provoking and rather sad third-act, in which we see the effect that decisions have on real people. It really got me thinking about how short life really is, and how your family and friends are what truly make your life amazing. If you put a focus on your work life, rather than spend time with those close to you, you could end up living a lonely life and perishing with nobody to mourn you.
With this aspect, comes the main talking point of ‘The Irishman’ and it’s something that many like myself were approaching with caution. I’m talking about the digital de-aging used on many of the characters in the film. Scorsese has said that he couldn’t make this film without this modern-day technology and I can safely say that this is the best use of the technology so far. When you first see it used in ‘The Irishman’ it can take a couple of scenes to get used to. But after a few minutes, I was pleasantly surprised by the use of the still-developing technology. Look, you can still tell that the main actors are in their 70s just by the way they walk, and one scene in particular (it involves Robert De Niro fighting someone, and it has already become a meme), but its use is easily the best I’ve seen in the film industry.
These aspects of the film are brought to life through the performances, which are as incredible as you would expect from such a talented cast. Firstly there’s Robert De Niro, giving his best performance in 24 years as our protagonist Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. De Niro is at his best here as our narrator and star of the show. He brings his usual De Niro toughness to the role, while also doing a great job at portraying a man who can’t seem to open up to anyone, even his family members. His performance here as well as in ‘Joker’ a couple of months ago prove that when he is given the right material, he earns that legendary status as an actor. This more than makes up for his lacklustre performances in movies like ‘Dirty Grandpa’.
De Niro’s performance is also made better by the addition of two other greats and his chemistry with them. Al Pacino is the first who I’ll talk about, as he steals every scene he’s in. Like De Niro, this is Pacino’s best performance since the mid-90s. His performance as Jimmy Hoffa is highly enjoyable to watch, as he brings a great mixture of comedy and seriousness to the role. One great thing I love about his character (and of course the real-life Hoffa), is that he hates people being late for meetings. One scene shows his hatred for someone being ten minutes late and it’s easily one of the best scenes of the movie. He’s outstanding, and it puts a smile on my face to see him on-screen with De Niro again.
The other person I’m talking about is, of course, Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino. I had a feeling Pesci would give an excellent performance since he came out of retirement just for this movie, and I wasn’t wrong. Pesci brings a sense of humanity to this terrifying mob boss, leading to one of the best and more subtle performances of 2019. It’s also just great to see Pesci in a movie again, and knowing that this is his last performance brings on the end of an era. This is the end of the gangster genre many of us have grown to love ever since the days of classics such as ‘The Godfather’. To see these three legendary actors on-screen together working for Scorsese himself is enough to make me ridiculously happy!
Everyone from Anna Paquin to Stephen Graham are all fantastic, and it shows that Scorsese knows how to bring out the best in every actor he works with.
Now, the main criticism I’ve heard is that Anna Paquin doesn’t have much to do in the movie, and I half-agree with this. I’m quite sure that with all the screen-time she has in this three-and-a-half-hour movie, she only has a couple of lines of dialogue. Now part of me wishes she had a more significant role in the film, due to her being an amazing actor, but look at what Scorsese was going for. ‘The Irishman’ is shown through the perspective of Frank Sheeran, as he reflects on his life. The main reason we always see Anna Paquin’s character of Peggy Sheeran from a distance is because of her relationship with Frank. Frank is shown to be a distant father and never makes that close connection with her. Scorsese is showing us the character of Peggy from our protagonist’s perspective, and although it may be frustrating at times for us audience members, this is how Frank saw his daughter.
I could talk about every other aspect from the cinematography to the brilliant score, but I feel like I should wrap this review up.
Overall, ‘The Irishman’ is one of the greatest movies of the decade and another masterpiece from legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. A crime-epic that decides to focus on the eventual effects life in the mob can have on people, this is gangster film like no other. Filled with career-best performances, excellent direction and a Shakespearian-esque script, ‘The Irishman’ is the definition of a cinematic epic. Scorsese brings us his most personal movie yet, and with overarching themes of mortality and loss, this is a film that will be talked about for years to come.