Review By Sam Maguire
Completing Scorsese’s mob milieu, The Irishman is a 3 and a half hour riveting crime epic sprawling across decades and is the directors most accomplished work since Goodfellas.
Based off Charles Brandt’s I Heard you Paint Houses – a non – fictional narrative concerning the later life of union baron Jimmy Hoffa – The Irishman revives classic ideas of brotherhood, loyalty and betrayal in the exploration of a relationship between three men, all with deep entrenchment in the underground world of organised crime.
Hoffa, and as the film quickly reminds us, at the time, as head of the nation’s most powerful union was second only to the president in notoriety, approaches Russell, played with intense economical efficiency by Joe Pesci, expressing interest in recruiting Frank Sheeran, the titular character, a World War 2 veteran, with the euphemism of “I heard you paint houses”.
From here, The Irishman imagines a world of slow and deliberate contemplation, where decisions are communicated not through words but through tacit acknowledgement and silent understandings. There will be conversations in cars, in bars and in people’s homes where decisions to exert violence are made with a silent sigh of inevitability and the camera work is sharp enough to record every furrowed brow and raised eyebrow of unsaid concern.
De Niro has a marvelous scene in the film’s set piece where he is unable to articulate his concerns to a close friend, as a life in the denies men the language and emotional intelligence to communicate anything beyond platitudes.
As Hoffa’s union empire starts to creak under its own pressure tensions overspill, the controlled violence increases in regularity and already paranoid men start evaluating the loyalty of the men they have surrounded themselves with. From here relationships are poisoned and the three men look set on a fatalistic collision course.
Once the stakes become clear and the film’s central dynamic is established The Irishman is capable of standing up against the director’s best work, and Scorsese made Goodfellas and Raging Bull. Getting to this stage may not be as swift as some viewers would like but much credit goes to editor Thelma Schoonmaker in making an almost 4 hour feature coherent and pleasurable to watch.
The feeling and sheer weight of occasion here given the pedigree of talent behind and in front of the camera is met with a trio of complimentary, idiosyncratic and yet broadly recognisable performances, each actor applying their own signature spin while managing to disappear into their character.
Pesci who reportedly turned the film down 50 times, is especially good here, conjuring images of Brando’s Godfather in the sheer economical efficiency of speech and movement he imbues into Russell.
Soaked in the fabric of The Irishman is the sense that is a film made by a master craftsman and the process at every step has been meticulous, namely the costume design which functions perfectly as a signpost of which decade the film has moved onto now.
The malleability of time is of course a Scorsese staple and arguably it has never been more pivotal than in The Irishman, and as the film weaves a tapestry of decades the sheer vivid detail and thematic depth becomes apparent. The world feels real and as lived in as anything Scorsese has ever produced and this is The Irishman’s greatest strength.
The 3 hour plus running time is masterfully disciplined and we get the epic mob procedural we were hoping for. This is not Goodfellas, It is not Casino. it is a very different beast, more meditative, ruminative, and introspective. It feels like the closing of a chapter in Scorsese’s, De Niro, Pesci and Pacino’s careers and Scorsese’s artistic apology of Goodfellas hyper energetic, visceral violence.
Robert Dreyfus (Newport Beach, CA) says
‘The Irishman’: an alternative movie?
Perhaps it is inevitable that a movie that generates such ultra-high expectations as ‘The Irishman’ is almost certain to disappoint on some level. After all, you’ve got the dream cast Pacino, DeNiro, Keitel, and Pesci. On top of that, none other than Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest movie-makers of all time, is directing it. Paradoxically, when you have so many stars in a film, the outcome is likely to fall short of the unrealistic anticipation surrounding it. And, in this case, the movie does fall short – on several levels.
• The first thing that looks out of place is Robert DeNiro’s absurd Frank Sinatra, blue-eye contact lenses. They look silly, like part of an exaggerated Halloween costume, which make it nearly impossible to suspend disbelief. Interestingly, he was far more convincing as an Irishman in Scorsese’s classic ‘Goodfellas’ without any such optical contrivances
• Unlike ‘Goodfellas’ in which Scorsese provides us with a clear chronology that we can easily follow, ‘The Irishman’ jaunts back and forth in time, creating a kind of temporal disorientation throughout the picture. Also, some of the scenes seem to have anachronistic components that don’t jive correctly with the era depicted
• Notably, Al Pacino, who plays a starring role in ‘The Irishman’ also, played a starring role in ‘The Godfather Part III,’ – another film that fell short of sky-high expectations – but only a flicker of his many Oscar-worthy performances is evident in these films. In a word, his performance in ‘The Irishman’ is histrionic: it seems like he is trying way too hard to project Jimmy Hoffa’s persona in a way that defies credulity and rings disingenuous
• Although designed to create the foundation for the upcoming plot, the initial scenes with the Mary Sheeran, Russell Bufalino, and Jimmy Hoffa characters are downright creepy. Is the intent to:
o Demonstrate how men ‘flirted’ with young girls at the time?
o Reveal character flaws in Russell Bufalino and Jimmy Hoffa?
o Illustrate Frank Sheeran’s tacit approval to have his daughter objectified by his cronies?
o Serve as a commentary on how girls were treated in general during that period?
In any case, it seems implausible that a father would be unfazed by the quasi pedophilic overtures towards his daughter.
I tried to like this film, I wanted to like this film, but from its very beginning, I was overcome by a disturbing realization that only grew as the film went on: this is not a good movie. Actually, it’s pretty bad. In fact, ‘The Irishman’ is to Scorsese’s masterpieces such as ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’ as ‘The Godfather Part III’ is to the monumental ‘Godfather Parts I & II.’ Yet, the top movie critics would have you believe this movie his best work yet! This response reminds me of Kelly Anne Conway’s famous ‘alternative facts’ theory: did these critics watch an ‘alternative movie’?