Note: This is a spoiler-free The Irishman movie review
Taxi Driver is a phenomenon. Goodfellas is in the pantheon of mob movies. Gangs of New York is a brutal, beautiful depiction of a revenge story. The Departed is when the Academy recognition finally came.
With The Irishman, Martin Scorcese has put together the cinematic saga he’s spent a career building up to.
The Irishman encompasses the career of a mob man and how a life of action impacts his relationships with related and non-related family. It is a rounding epic that can only be told by the man who is telling it and can only be acted by the men who are bringing it to life.
Marty’s Mark On Film With The Irishman
The Irishman has a monster cast, and plenty will be said and written about it. But make no mistake about it — this film is what it is because of Martin Scorcese.
To be clear, I’m not taking anything away from writer Steven Zaillian, who adapted Charles Brandt‘s book for the big screen. Zaillian is yet another Oscar winner associated with the film who brings the story to life with classic mob-movie dialogue fans of the genre will love.
But keeping intrigue and evoking emotion for over three hours? That job belongs to Scorcese.
One of the things that stands out most with The Irishman is the building tension and anticipation as things come to a head. You know conflict is ever-approaching, but you’re never sure how or when. The ability to still get the full reaction from an audience even when they know what’s going to happen is what makes great directing. Scorcese has mastered the art.
The poetic long shots Scorcese is known for also make an appearance, of course. The ability to portray a quick-witted, subliminal mob conversation unlike anyone else is on display from the Oscar winner. An immersive, uninterrupted true crime world is showcased in only the way Martin Scorcese can.
There are many people better qualified than I to discuss the “Scorcese’s Best Film” debate. But The Irishman is a film that calls back to and culminates and legendary filmmaker’s life work.
Legends Coming Together
All three of the main actors are as big a presence as you think in their performances and on-screen. The best thing about the triumvirate is they’re each great in their own unique way. The different performances melding together allow the giants to share the screen without overshadowing one another.
De Niro Leads
The unquestioned lead actor of The Irishman is Robert De Niro, so let’s start there. De Niro provides the narrative and all perspective of the story, with all characters and plotlines moving around him. It’s a big ask in a film with so much anticipation, and very few actors can handle it. You already know De Niro is one of those people.
The calm, collected, matter-of-fact demeanor that the two-time Oscar winner brings to every performance is perfect for his role as “house painter” Frank Sheeran. De Niro finds a way to show little emotion for most of the movie, yet evokes emotion from the audience entirely and puts on a screen-commanding performance. It’s a rare skill on full display throughout the film.
The story is told through Sheeran’s eyes, and by the end, you feel like you’ve lived his life. The range of life experience, emotion, turmoil, highs, and lows along the way warrant 3+ hours of storytelling.
This is a story and performance that grabs audiences and sticks with them for a long time.
Pacino Stands Out
One of the talking points among critics and moviegoers alike after seeing The Irishman will be, “which actor played their role best!?”. For my money, that distinction belongs to Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa.
When playing a character as prominent in history as Hoffa, the “did they play it right” question will always be asked. “Right” can be up for interpretation, but Pacino plays the famous union leader perfect for Hollywood. The Oscar winner finds the perfect combination of charmingly cutthroat, commanding, and funny in bringing Hoffa to life.
Pacino’s performance is the most important of the film on multiple fronts. First, Hoffa is the most recognizable name in The Irishman, so consciously or sub-consciously people will be drawn to him. Second, he brings a light-hearted comedy to a few scenes that is much needed during a marathon movie with a heavy tone for most of it.
Combine the importance of the role within the film with a legendary actor, and you’ve got a throwback performance from Pacino that will be marked as his best in quite a while.
Likely least talked about but in no way left behind is Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino. It never ceases to amaze how an actor without the gift of height can command such a large presence on screen. The Oscar winner has done it multiple times in the past, and he does it again in The Irishman.
Sheeran is the look inside the gritty of mob life. Hoffa shows the mob business mentality that lives outside being directly associated with the mafia. Bufalino’s storyline brings the two worlds together as the mob boss handling both the business and directing when someone needs to get his hands dirty. Pesci is an excellent pick as the man who pulls the strings behind the scenes while looking unassuming at face value.
Also — and this is a bit of a newsflash — none of these three men are particularly young anymore. In fact, De Niro is the youngest of the bunch with 76 years of life experience. For that reason, the saga of a story told in The Irishman comes at a perfect time.
These fellas have all lived quite a life so far, acting and otherwise, and now they’re being asked to bring that expertise to a historical story told over multiple decades they lived and thrived in.
The performances simply wouldn’t be possible from men with any less on their resume and the fact these men have it adds to the film’s experience.
How Long Is Too Long?
There will be discussion about the length of The Irishman, and deservedly so. The movie is 3 hours, 29 minutes long.
Is that too long for a movie in 2019? You bet it is, and there’s no real debate in that. Anyone that says the film isn’t too long is a movie snob and also lying. Frankly, the movie feels long at times and doesn’t need to be 209 minutes. And that’s despite the fact the end is well worth the wait.
That said, no one in their right mind is telling Scorcese, De Niro, Pacino, or Pesci that their film is too long. The length doesn’t do anywhere near enough to take away from the production or acting, and in no way will stop people from seeing The Irishman.
The movie is shot and directed brilliantly, making the theater experience the best one. If you can find a way to create the theater experience at home with Netflix and a pause button for pee breaks, you’ve got yourself a win-win.
Should I See The Irishman?
This is an interesting question because the film is undoubtedly great. But The Irishman is not for everyone.
If you are a fan of classic cinema or share the same opinions as The Academy, you’ll love this film. If you want pure entertainment the entire time you’re watching a movie, this will get to be a boring watch for you at times.
I recommend The Irishman for anyone on the fence. Simply put this is an important film in Hollywood and will be talked about for a long time. You don’t want to miss the boat. It’s well worth the watch.
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(Featured Image courtesy of EPK)