Released: 27th November
Seen: 1st December
So… the discussion around Marin Scorsese lately has been kind of interesting. I’ve avoided bringing up his feelings regarding the Marvel movies on this blog because it never seemed relevant but now I’m going to have to talk about the movie that he was promoting while making those comments so let’s get that out of the way. While I think Martin was wrong, he’s also one of the greatest directors of all time and can, therefore, say any goddamn thing he wants to say about cinema. Plus, he’s still turning out high quality films so as long as he keeps proving why he’s one of the best of all time, I’m good with just about anything he wants to say… even if I strenuously disagree with him and think that his latest film has a few problems, it’s still great and worthy of letting the man say any damn thing he likes.
The Irishman, based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, details the life story of Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) from his early days as a truck driver to his meeting with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) which begins him on his career with the Italian mafia. From there we slowly see him work through the ranks of the mafia, doing odd jobs that include… well, murder, it’s a mafia movie so there’s a lot of murder until Sheeran is eventually introduced to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and begins acting as his bodyguard. The movie then keeps going, showing Hoffa going to jail, Sheeran having to deal with how his work affects his family, going all the way through Hoffa’s disappearance and ending after several decades of events have been meticulously described.
If you can’t spare the full three and a half hours to view this in one sitting, don’t bother. I also highly recommend caffeine and making sure you’re in the right frame of mind to go with it because this one feels even longer than it is. I ended up going back and forth between my computer and my TV to watch this one and while I still really enjoyed the film, it doesn’t shock me that some are calling it boring. It’s way longer than it needs to be, you can feel Scorsese indulging himself in every detail he can think of putting on screen. I can only really compare this feeling like the exact opposite of Wolf of Wall Street which just flew by even though it lasted for three hours. Here? The film is desperate to linger on everything it can for as long as possible, making the audience feel like they’re sitting in a grandparent’s home listening to them tell stories about the war. Stories told by someone who already talks slower than they used to but also has to take giant deep breaths between every sentence just so they can make it to the end. The story they’re telling is still fascinating and rich in detail, but it’s really hard to sit there for three and a half hours while they go through this story you could swear they’ve told before. This is because we have been told this story before by the same people telling this one, except now they’re older and don’t see this as glamorous as they used to so it’s a lot more considered. Everything is just kind of happening, even explosions and murders are almost forgettable. Again, this is a good movie that I like, its slowness did make it hard to watch but its slowness is also very intentional.
What helps this story more than anything else is it’s being told by people at the top of their game. DeNiro delivers a performance that’s almost designed to remind everyone why his name deserves to be said with the word “Fuckin’” as his middle name, it’s a display of that pure talent that feels like it’s been missing for so long thanks to a long stream of average comedies. He is genuinely engaging and every little look he gives tells you more about the character. Pacino as Hoffa is just what you would expect out of Pacino, he’s going for broke and it’s amazing as hell. Every scene where he’s on-screen is a scene where he’s stealing the show and enjoying that he can do it. The standout though, and the biggest surprise of the film, is Joe Pesci who delivers a performance that can only be described as “The most controlled Joe Pesci performance ever”. Seriously, I have never seen him this calm before. It’s unnerving, you’re almost waiting for the patented Pesci meltdown and instead, he gives you this quietly intimidating performance that’s so much more effective. He’s subtle and subdued but there’s an intensity behind the eyes that makes it very clear who is running everything and that if he says jump, your response should be ‘off what cliff?’ because he’s not going to ask twice. Out of every performance in this film, it’s Pesci who we should be talking about again come award season because he just knocks it out of the park.
Every actor in this cast gets several moments to shine, as they should considering that we’re sitting around for 209 minutes. While the scenes feel like they could be tightened up a lot more to give the film a better pace (because the pace is just exhausting), they all have several genuinely great moments brought on by a fantastic script that slowly builds and builds to a climax we all know has to happen (because we all know exactly one thing about Jimmy Hoffa so we all know how this must go) and makes that climax still a surprise. This one is so much more dialogue-heavy than anything else, which in part might explain the pacing issue, but this dialogue feels so much more realistic than anything else, making everything feel incredibly realistic. It’s a more ponderous film, letting the dialogue do all the heavy lifting and every actor delivers it brilliantly as one might expect. Turns out when you get a cast of some of the greatest actors of all time and throw them a script by Stephen Zaillian (Aka the guy who wrote the screenplay for Schindler’s List) and give them one of the greatest directors in history then you’re going to get some pretty great work out of them… who would’ve guessed?
The de-aging technology used for this one is absolutely essential and it’s so well done. We’re spending close to 4 decades following these characters and need to see them at specific points in time so the look of them at every age has to look right. Now, if Richard Linkletter was directing this the film would actually take 40 years to film but since most people don’t have that kind of patience, they rely heavily on CGI to remove about 40 years from everyone’s faces and it is so good that a de-aged DeNiro can share the frame with Ray Romano and you would never guess which one had gone through serious alteration via CGI. It’s genuinely amazing and helps sell the story, it’s so much better than casting multiple people because we literally have visual memories of all these actors at the ages they need to be, and kudos to every actor for being able to physically move like someone 40 years younger.
The Irishman is certainly a hard film to sit through in one go, but it’s worth the attempt. It’s Scorsese getting to have one more crack at the mafia movie now that he’s older and wiser and it’s certainly different enough that it earns considerable respect. I don’t think it’s his best work (I’m very partial to Wolf of Wall Street, but that could just be me) but it’s certainly something special. A fine showing by everyone involved, even if it needs an editor to come along and cut about 45 minutes to give it something resembling a decent pace.