With his latest grandiose crime epic THE IRISHMAN, Martin Scorsese essentially reminisces his past works, in a collaborative effort that blends together the untamed nature of Goodfellas, the hard-hitting tone of The Departed, the moody reflection of Taxi Driver and the deeply meditative slow-burn of Silence, to celebrate the master of cinema’s vastly diverse and formidably ambitious filmography.
Scorsese’s latest is a magisterial 3-and-a-half-hour slow-burn crime epic that chronicles the life of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran — played by a doleful Robert De Niro — a truck driver turn hit man who’s affliction with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his crime family is explored – including the time Sheeran spent working under the powerful Teamster labor union General President Jimmy Hoffa (a vociferous and overambitious Al Pacino). Written by Steven Zaillian, the film is based on the 2004 book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ by Charles Brandt.
De Niro creates one of his career’s finest performances and transforms into Frank Sheeran through each of these decades, living in the shoes of The Irishman, and holding the consequences and regrets held by him. With the aid of de-aging technology, that for the most part works brilliantly, the film serves as a retrospective-like account of Frank’s actions and affliction with the mob throughout his life as The Irishman.
What truly strikes with De Niro’s performance is how much it changes along with the narrative — with every altering moment and section of his life. Sheeran adapts, matures, learns, and even remorsefully reflects upon the savagery and brutality of the life he led as the Irishman with the mob; with De Niro exemplifying all this changes and helping the character of Sheeran develop by perfectly walking in his shoes and breathing the regret and reminiscent remorse weighted upon him. De Niro’s final scene is overwhelmingly devastating – a line of dialogue and a shot that contradicts his remorseless status as The Irishman, while he laments the crimes of his life. This specific scene alone will haunt audiences with a feeling of sympathy.
Whilst De Niro’s quiet performance is often very subtle and meditative, Pacino is the exact opposite; in true Al Pacino fashion. His performance is loud, showy and vociferous — it screams power, it shows domination and it displays his loudly opinionated ways. Pacino’s blaring, at times comical characterization of Jimmy Hoffa is certainly an interesting one; showing more to Hoffa than what’s on the surface, making sense to his ideals and opinionated statements. Pesci, more tamed than usual in a Scorsese film, is remarkably present throughout the film, especially in key important moments. His performance, akin to De Niro’s, is often understated at most times, leaving the ostentatious theatricality to Pacino’s Hoffa.
Many have said to prefer Pacino’s insistent Hoffa performance to De Niro’s understated outing as Sheeran, naming Pacino’s performance as one of the best aspects of the film. But as much as I loved how roaring Pacino managed to be, I would have to disagree. De Niro’s contemplative performance is what carries the film through, and gives life to the reflective retelling of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran.
Leading the film with audaciously contemplative and reflective performances, De Niro, the arguable standout of the film that is Pacino, and Pesci’s performances are supported by a stellar cast, including the likes of Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons and Stephen Graham, among many other names; all of whom carry out convincing and committed performances.
Besides the wonderful acting from Hollywood’s most acclaimed group of luminaries, it’s Martin Scorsese’s confident, matured and level-headed directing that makes The Irishman such a captivating 3.5 hour epic. Under any other director, a film of this magnitude, depth and length wouldn’t have worked as effectively; either feeling too drawn out, too shallow or too imbalanced. But under the accomplished, long-serving belt of Scorsese’s talent, the film was wonderfully handled to captivating degrees. Nothing felt rushed or out of place! Everything fit in perfectly within the narrative as Scorsese meticulously unraveled the life of Frank Sheeran and the mystery of Jimmy Hoffa’s death.
Putting it best, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman stands out with the best of the industry. Its first half feels unhinged, convincing and amusing; like some of Scorsese’s previous work, like Goodfellas and Mean Streets. Whilst its second half feels reflective, grim and remorseful; similar to some beloved classics like The Deer Hunter and The Godfather films. Built on a foundation of his experience and his previous filmography, The Irishman is his most mature work yet, promising a truly authentic, authoritative and auteurist cinematic experience.
The Irishman is now playing in selected cinemas, following its U.K. premiere at the 2019 London Film Festival. It is scheduled to stream digitally on Netflix on November 27.