By midlandsmovies, Oct 14 2019 07:51AM
The Irishman (2019) Dir. Martin Scorsese
Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, this epic flick from gangster maestro Martin Scorsese stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci as Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa and Russell Bufalino and tells of Sheeran’s rise in Bufalino’s crime family alongside his support to Union head honcho Hoffa.
The plot begins slow as a Scorsese staple voiceover and a rest-home based elderly Sheeran recounts his life over many decades. Sheeran is shown in flashback participating in the horrors of World War 2 alongside his rise as “muscle” for Jimmy Hoffa, the President of an American labour union. The honest goals of decent wages and workers’ rights are undermined with its links to organised crime which leads to Hoffa heading to prison for bribery and fraud.
The acting trio heavyweights not only bring their phenomenal talent to three well-defined roles, the film plays on their combined cinematic history and their previous performances. De Niro as the gangster on the rise dealing in dodgy goods in trucks echoes his Goodfellas scams (a meat truck specifically so) whilst Pacino is constantly about to burst with his legendary rants. Pesci however is far more subdued – perhaps his years in retirement have mellowed the actor – but he holds his own by playing against type as the stoic but scary mob boss whose softly-spoken delivery of dialogue hides his real, and deadly, intentions.
As Sheeran gains respect within the union (Scorsese has him blowing up a fleet of Taxis – nice!) he gets slowly drawn into a murky world of scumbags. It’s also the little details the director adds such as Sheeran explaining about beer-soaked hotdogs, which is similar to the garlic slicing in Goodfellas, and importantly inserts small aspects that make the world breathe.
Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel also makes a cameo appearance but it’s Liverpool-actor Stephen Graham who steals the show in some feisty (and funny scenes) with Al Pacino. Graham plays Anthony Provenzano who is allowed to bankroll his activities using Union Funds but has fiery conflicts with the notorious punctual Hoffa by showing up late (and in shorts) to important meetings. Pacino and Graham have some terrific dramatic back-and-forths before their characters end up in federal prison where their sentences overlap and further fighting occurs.
Another actor of note is an understated Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s daughter Peggy who disowns her father owing to his involvement in serious crime. An earlier scene in a bowling alley with the young Peggy and a restrained Pesci creates a tension that also delivers a satisfying pay-off later.
There’s no avoiding the extended runtime and, for me, there were few iconic and easily-identifiable memorable moments but the overall structure is fulfilling. It’s an intentionally slower paced movie with Scorsese and the actors reflecting on their respective film gravitas. And the use of flashback and narrative recollection represents a reassessment of a life of violence (and violent films) and family (the casts’ relationship to each other).
Speaking of age, the director’s use of de-aging CGI is very impressive with ILM subtly capturing the youthful looks of the main cast. This works especially well on De Niro who at times looks no different to when he played his last role for Scorsese as Casino boss Sam Rothstein 24 years beforehand.
A loving goodbye, age has mellowed them all and the film’s measured pace and phenomenal length, which in all honesty could have been trimmed quite significantly, will either put you off or draw you in. For me, it mostly brought me into a satisfying world of sleaze, bribery and immorality but be wary, the runtime is a hindrance at points as it expands scene times to the limit, and sometimes beyond their dramatic breaking point.
However, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is first-rate nonetheless. The movie is an extraordinary drama of historical importance and covers contemporary themes of authoritarian corruption and violence, but it is also a more than pleasurable and honest love letter to the group’s past creative endeavours together.