Martin Scorsese's The Irishman is a greatest hits mobster movie with perspective, reflecting on Scorsese's entire filmography with the actors that helped make those movies iconic. It's also a traumatic tale of regret, commenting on the body of ones actions and how they will eventually catch up to you. It's not Scorsese's best or most flashy, but it is his deepest.
Director Martin Scorsese returns to the mobster genre for his latest 3-and-a-half-hour epic The Irishman, which is now playing in select theaters before debuting on Netflix on November 27th. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci star in the sprawling epic that depicts the life of a well-known hitman and his rise through the ranks.
Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) started out as a simple meat delivery driver, before becoming very useful for mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). The next thing you know, Frank was doing hits left and right for the Italians, knowing that they would take care of him as long as he continues to do them “favors”. This eventually leads him to teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), one of the most powerful union presidents in the country.
Frank’s relationship with Jimmy strengthens as he is given opportunities and a life that he had never dreamed of, which comes into conflict with the traditional way of doing things, when Jimmy refuses to play ball with not just Russell, but a majority of the crime families that control all of the money.
This puts Frank in a hard place as his loyalty and friendship are not only tested, but defined against the backdrop of a life full of murder and crime.
The Irishman is director Martin Scorsese reflecting on his known legacy within the genre, providing us with a collection of familiar moments and plot setups that pays off in the form of a long-gesturing epic that follows the life of Frank from beginning to the very end.
The Irishman may feel like just another mobster movie, but by the last act it truly becomes unlike anything Scorsese has ever made before, tacking on an emotional punch in the face with a lead pipe that stings longer than usual.
What I mean by this is that Scorsese wisely adapts Steve Zaillian‘s script, based on Charles Brandt‘s novel, in a way that feels contemplative and not as excessive and as black-and-white as his mobster films usually are.
Generally, a Scorsese mobster flick features a ton of violence, a rise to the top, a few double-crossings and a full-circle revisit towards his characters original intentions faced against what they’ve actually become.
And this isn’t a knock towards Scorsese’s somewhat predictable means of storytelling, it’s actually quite the opposite as Scorsese continues to prove that he can work within the same genre and continue to pump out quality films that are full of surprises and memorable characters.
But what sets The Irishman apart from the bulk of his filmography, aside from the film’s bloated and never-ending running time is its ability to truly reflect on a life of decisions, some that have turned into regrets, as Frank Sheeran slowly watches the world move forward around him, while he mostly stays put in the same place.
Actor Robert De Niro gives a late-career best performance that I honestly didn’t know he still had in him. He channels an altered version of the characters he’s played in the past. Frank is far from a confident crime boss or even a notoriously cold hitman and instead a family man that got thrown into the mob mix and has mostly been doing what he’s told, occasionally questioning his decisions, but mostly following orders blindly, rarely realizing that what he is doing cannot be undone.
It’s a refreshing performance, full of uncertainty and downright doubt as Frank navigates through the hitman business in a way that feels worn down and lived in.
Joe Pesci turns in a mostly restrained performance as Russell Bufalino. My biggest complaint, performance-wise, from this film, was how Pesci mostly plays a side character that doesn’t drive much of a punch. Russell is an important character not to just the story, but to Frank’s upbringing, but he’s far from what is to be expected from a Pesci/Scorsese performance.
And perhaps that was the point, to divert expectations and to give us something that we thought we’d already seen, but actually haven’t.
My only knock against that is that we haven’t seen much of Pesci in the past decade or two and I felt that this would’ve been a perfect way to give us one last memorable performance. Not the filmmakers fault for wanting to give us a different side of Pesci as much as it was my own expectations walking into the film.
Al Pacino must also be commended for giving a performance that might just rival De Niro in terms of career-best far past his expiration date. I haven’t followed much of Pacino’s career over the past decade, which makes his Jimmy Hoffa all the more surprising.
Jimmy is a hard-headed teamster that isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with the mob, but also equally unafraid to bark back when orders are being thrown at him blindly. Hoffa’s biggest downfall is forgetting his place in the deadly food chain and thinking that he truly is above the law and the mob.
Pacino gives Hoffa such depth and range, engaging with his peers in a way that feels genuine and family-like. Watching him take Frank under his wing and then welcome him into his family gave the film an emotional connection that I thought wasn’t possible in a Scorsese film.
Most of this review is probably reading like high praise, which might shock you when I say that I thought The Irishman was an okay film, but far from a great one.
I get what Martin Scorsese was going for and I appreciate his efforts as he attempts to add some depth to his iconic stamp on the mobster genre. The Irishman is much more meditative than anything he has ever done before and for that I respect him even more.
But The Irishman didn’t need to be nearly four hours long. It spends almost too much of its time on setup, allowing us to get comfortable with its characters and literally every single decision that they make. I personally feel that a tighter edit could’ve driven the point across in a much more impactful manner, but that might just come down to a personal preference.
Generally, I see a Martin Scorsese film and am instantly trying to find out when I will be seeing it again, with as many friends as possible, yet with The Irishman I instantly thought that I probably wouldn’t ever watch it again.
The fact that it hits Netflix next week has me curious to see how it would hold up in the comfort of my own home, especially after already have seen it on the big screen proper. Perhaps it is one that will grow on me as I grow myself and make my own decisions that might someday lead to regret?
I’m sure I will revisit The Irishman someday and I hope on that day that I find more to like, but until that day, I firmly believe that The Irishman is a decent mobster movie with amazing, Oscar-worthy performances that enhance a reflective, but somewhat repetitive story about crime, guilt and the decisions that last a lifetime.
Director Martin Scorsese has made a film that’s certainly worth talking about and reflecting on, but one that I don’t feel hits home as strong or as hard as his past classics, like The Departed, Casino or Goodfellas. Perhaps time is required for The Irishman to age into an all-timer or perhaps Scorsese’s latest epic lost its way trying too hard to travel down memory lane?