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The Irishman (review)

Produced by Martin Scorsese,
Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal,
Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler,
Gerald Chamales, Gastón Pavlovich,
Randall Emmett, Gabriele Israilovici

Screenplay by Steven Zaillian
Based on I Heard You Paint Houses
by Charles Brandt

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci,
Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale,
Jesse Plemons,Harvey Keitel

 

The Irishman, based on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa” by Charles Brandt, chronicles the life of Sheeran throughout three decades as he rises up in the ranks of both the Italian mob and the Teamsters Union.

Frank Sheeran, here brilliantly performed by Robert DeNiro, was a truck driver turned mob hitman who worked with the Teamsters Union’s president, Jimmy Hoffa, as a bodyguard and associate.

Hoffa is notably portrayed by first time Scorsese player, Al Pacino. Sheeran would eventually became the president of a local chapter of the union itself. He is also the man claiming to be the one to have murdered Hoffa in 1975 after Hoffa was thought to be more of a liability than an asset to the Philadelphia mob families.

This film is the accumulation of over 5 decades of filmmaking for Mr. Scorsese who is primarily known for his gangster films. His ouver, however, spans many genres and subjects. Taking what he has learned in storytelling especially of this particular genre, Scorsese has made this film both an homage to his past films as well as a deconstruction of them. He really examines the heart of the gangster and also the films that surround them. Unlike Goodfellas, which seems to almost glorify the mob and how cool it is to be a gangster, The Irishman tells the tale almost like a cautionary tale and demystifies the allure of that world and all its trappings.

Through the liberal use of flashbacks the film takes us back and forth throughout Sheeran’s life from his first meetings with mob boss, Russell Bufalino, right after the War, when Sheeran was just a union truck driver to the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa and the ensuing aftermath. Bufalino is exquisitely acted by Joe Pesci, who came out of retirement to take on the role,

The film opens in a dark hall as we move towards a well lit doorway. In slow uncut single shot we move through a nursing home towards a lone elderly figure sitting in a wheelchair. Here we are introduced to Frank Sheeran at the end of his life. He begins to tell the tale which is to be the film.

Scorsese cuts here to a flashback and uses the Goodfella’s formula to begin the film but immediately flips it and instead of cool guys driving to the woods to whack a rival made guy we see an aged Sheeran and Bufalino driving to Detroit to attend the wedding of Russell’s cousin, Bill (Ray Romano). Bill is a teamster as well as an attorney who frequently represented Sheeran and Hoffa. Instead of the humorous and exciting opening of Goodfellas, we get a more mature and methodical tale.

What Scorsese has effectively created is the same drama and curiosity but though what can only be described as a more mature and thoughtful process. Here he lets the acting and the screenplay, written by Steven Zallian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York) do all the heavy lifting allowing his camerawork and editing to ease us into this gripping tale going forward.

The film liberally uses the new and shiny technique made popular by the Marvel Superhero movies of “de-aging” the actors to play their younger selves at different younger ages in all the flashbacks. This has its merits, especially for people of my age and older who grew up on DeNiro and Pacino and Pesci in their prime.

Seeing them again at that age on screen again here is both wonderful and also jarring. Here’s the thing. You can de-age the face and the hands of an actor or actress all you want but a 70 year old is still going to move and sound like a 70 year old they just now have a younger face and that is my issue with this whole thing. At no point does it ruin or take me out of the film but I was definitely aware of this during some specific scenes of the film. There is a merit to casting younger actors to play older actors in movies. All that being said, the entire cast was phenomenal. There are no wasted characters or inferior acting. Everyone plays their part perfectly and every character has their part to play no matter how minor.

Coming in at just shy of 3 ½ hours this film is not for everyone. Though I will say that it definitely did not feel like over 3 hours. The story is definitely riveting and held my attention the whole time. They say that films are told through their editing and long-time Scorsese collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker once again proves why she is one of the greatest all time film editors. At no point did I feel any lag or did he lose my interest. The editing was sharp as ever, which created a kinetic pace and this film breezed by for me. Scorsese has also brought back cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, whom I raved about his stunning cinematography in Silence. Here, he once again shows his talents on this film as it is beautifully and elegantly photographed.

If you know me, you know that Martin Scorsese is my favorite modern day director. He has directed some of the greatest films of all time. He is a master of his craft and The Irishman, a culmination of decades of filmmaking, is no exception.

I would gladly sit through this film again whether it is in the theater or at home on Netflix, where it will be heading after its limited theatrical run. I will say that it is a film that should be seen in the theater where it is meant to be seen

 

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