Martin Scorsese teams up with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci to make a film that for many old school cinema and gangster movie fans will be the most anticipated film in decades. It certainly has the cast, and the extreme run time, of a Godfather wannabe, but can it deliver on all that potential?
I found myself going into this film with some trepidation regarding a few points. Would the de-aging technology employed throughout work seamlessly or would it be a jarring factor in the film? Could Scorsese pull a good performance from De Niro, a man who has largely cashed cheques for turning up over the last few years. He has done his part in a lot of films but rarely with the commitment he had back in the day. Would Al Pacino become a caricature of himself as this larger than life character in Jimmy Hoffa? Could Joe Pesci possibly still deliver the goods after nearly 21 years of doing very little in Hollywood?
Well quite incredibly, the answer to those concerns were all emphatically positive. The biggest compliment any special effect can receive is that you simply don’t notice it is there. That is the case for the majority of this film, and although there are a few scenes where it’s a little odd, it never threw me out of the movie. At one point there is a scene that highlights that whilst you can de-age someone’s face, you can’t de-age their movement, and the scene outside a greengrocer highlights it clear as day. Other than the odd moment here and there though, the film’s exorbitant run time is unobstructed by the technology, and this film simply wouldn’t be possible without it.
Robert De Niro is an incredibly recognisable man, but he disappears into this role in a way I haven’t seen him do for a long time. He is completely committed and gives a lot in his performance, but the nature of his character means he comes across as a reluctant protagonist. Al Pacino’s character is the charismatic, larger than life figure who chews scenery left and right, owning the role. Again, he is completely in on the role and working with Scorsese seems to have lit a fire in these two actors and brought incredible performances from them both.
The third headline name is one less known to my generation because he’s barely done anything since the late nineties. Joe Pesci plays a hugely respected mob boss who is pulling strings and has a finger in every pie around. He doesn’t do it by being the over the top Pitbull type like Pacino does, but instead invokes memories of Marlon Brando in The Godfather. He is quiet, thoughtful and deliberate. You get the feeling he is friendly to everyone until it doesn’t suit him to be friendly, and even then, he will order you to your death whilst sipping a glass of red and smoking.
There is a cavalcade of other actors involved, and to list them all would take forever, but I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that Scorsese gets gold out of everyone he works with. Best of the rest for me was Stephen Graham, who steals most scenes he is in. He plays a character cut from the same cloth as Pacino’s, but with different motivations. The actors and performances all make this movie incredibly watchable from moment to moment, and they need to be at this level to carry a movie this long.
The plot is a complex one, but essentially it is the life story of De Niro’s character Frank Sheeran, who was a real-life gangster back in the day. It spans 60 years of his life, thanks to the de-aging tech, and to me the film is split into two distinct themes. Most of the film is a good, maybe even great mob film, but it treads on ground very similar to what we have seen from these actors and this director before. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s entertaining, but it does mean you kind of know who these people are and how they’re going to interact quickly if you’re familiar with this style of film.
There is a lot of talking, broken up by occasional bouts of violence. The character relationships are dived into, particularly the three main actors I mentioned above, and Frank’s relationship to them is the main element we are focused on. He is fiercely loyal and has learned to do things a certain way, and that extends to his time with his family.
The scenes with his family are spread throughout the film and at first I thought it was just there to humanise him, which it does but when the film starts to slowly wind down to the end, certain things come back and I found the more I remembered about the film and thought about it, the more effective the ending become. The Irishman is a story about a man who lived his life in service of other people, at the expense of his own life in many ways.
In the final moments of the film, it hits you that he is trying to make amends for the way he lived, and although I don’t believe he regrets all of it, you certainly feel like he wishes something was different. When the film ends, the final shot felt abrupt to me, but that’s because I was so in, I wanted to know what was happening next and then it ends. But this started to be less odd the more I thought about it.
This is a great film, but as I have hinted at, the run time is excessive. At 3 hours and 30 minutes long, it is an ordeal to sit through. You must plan around it; you can’t just chuck this on one evening. This is the main issue I had with the film, every scene when you’re in it felt important, but quite a lot of them could be removed and the film doesn’t lose anything. Speaking to people about the film and discussing certain plot points, I realised they went nowhere, which is disappointing because in the moment I was interested in seeing where things went.
The Irishman doesn’t boldly go where man has not been before, but it goes back over the history of this genre and cherry picks the best actors, relights their passion for film and lets them go on a greatest hits tour of gangster movies. Goodfellas, Heat, Casino, The Godfather, Scarface, The Departed and more all give a little something to this film. It’s a film that’s made possible by the tech, and by the combined centuries of experience working together.
Whether Scorsese meant to or not, he has created the Avengers of gangster films, where all the previous films have contributed towards creating this one great, epic piece.
Good: The acting, seriously, these guys are masters in this genre, and they show why they’re the go to names. It sticks with you afterwards and for me personally, gave me a different perspective on some things.
Bad: Its offensively long, and a little bit of fat trimming here and there wouldn’t have hurt at all. It’s a little derivative but that’s not something that bothered me really.
9/10 – A love letter to a genre, written by the people who made it famous.