The Irishman Review

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. 

 

De Good, De Bad, and De Niro

How on earth Arsenal didn’t win the North London Derby is beyond me. We dominated spurs (although you wouldn’t think so from the Match of the Day highlights) but a mixture or Hugo Lloris heroics and poor decisions in the final third ruined my plans to enter the office this morning wearing Arsenal’s beautiful bruised banana kit. 

In order to get over this frustration, I decided to settle down and watch Taxi Driver. A film about a man slowly going insane, which is a rather perfect reflection of what being a football fan is like.  The film itself is one of many classic films that I haven’t watched previously, so I was also just excited to watch what is considered by many to be a very good film.

I have to say it’s one of the first movies from the 70’s that I have been able to sit through without being put off by the visuals. Movies from that time are obviously not quite the same as the 4k beautiful shots we are used to now, and for some reason that just feels a little off to me if the film doesn’t grab me. Once Taxi Driver gets going though, I understood why this film is so revered. The performance of Robert De Niro is incredible, and he becomes the character of Travis Bickle. Nowadays, De Niro is a hugely respected actor whose most well-known roll is the dad in the Meet the Parents films, so it was awesome to watch the film where he earned all that respect.

I know he is also in The Godfather Part II, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch that since I watched the original Godfather film. That first film contains so many amazing elements, but I think the style of film making at the time and the way the industry has evolved make it a very tough film to get through. It’s just two minutes shy of three hours long, but when you’re used to the speed of today’s films, it feels so slow.

The film lingers on a shot for 10-15 seconds, to immerse you in the scene, which is an understandable tact to take, but to me it just feels like the editing is poor. This is not true of course; at the time this is how films were made. When you’re used to the quite cuts and fast progression between scenes we have now, The Godfather feels like a slow trudge through the story which could be shortened but maybe 40 minutes by a skilled modern editor without losing too much. Maybe this is blasphemous to some movie aficionados out there, but I would watch a modern edit of the Godfather in a heartbeat over the original, if it contained the same story and showcased the performance of Marlon Brando.

Given my discomfort watching older films, you may wonder what drove me to watch Taxi Driver last night. Well perhaps predictably it was the Joker. The first reviews for the new Joaquin Phoenix led film dropped to my, and a lot of other peoples, surprise over the weekend. For context, this film is still, even today, a full month away from release. Letting people put up their reviews this early is a show of brazen confidence very rarely seen in the movie industry and suggests Warner Bros know exactly what they have with this movie.

By all accounts, what they have is an absolute masterpiece. Reviews from the people I follow have been praising this film’s style and story, but all the main comments are about how brilliant Joaquin Phoenix is in the role of the Joker. I mentioned last week how excited I was to see this flick, but now I want to go into a coma and wake up on release date as there is just nothing else, I would rather do with my time then see this film.

Phoenix is one of the most talented actors around, so I knew there was a chance of something special when you have someone that talented commit to this character. The film is apparently 99% Joaquin Phoenix, as in he is in every shot. That is exactly what you want from a movie about a character so complex. Watching Taxi Driver last night, I started to understand why this type of film was an inspiration. It’s focused completely on De Niro’s Travis Bickle, just as Joker is front and centre of his film. The way it follows his decent into insanity is expertly done in Taxi Driver, so to know this kind of attention to detail is there in the Joker film really puts this top of my most anticipated list.

Another reason for Joker now topping my anticipated list, even over The Rise of Skywalker, is the comparison’s it’s getting to my favourite movie of all time, The Dark Knight. Any Joker performance from now until the end of time will be compared to Heath Ledger’s amazing work in The Dark Knight, so this one is no different. Where this might differ from the rest of Joker actors though, is that Phoenix is being touted as delivering an even better performance.

Time will tell if I agree with that assessment, but I do need to spend the next month trying to forget about the film. I want to go in with no heavy expectations on the film so I can enjoy it as much as possible.

If Arsenal would have lost yesterday, I think I may well have begun my own Travis Bickle like descent into madness. Mkhitaryan needs to get to fuck. Comes on and runs around like a headless chicken with the touch of Romelu Lukaku. Not to mention Superman lookalike Granit-for-brains Xhaka. Spent 90 minutes on the pitch, launching himself at the Spurs players arse first and then acting surprised it didn’t work. Thank fuck for Aubameyang, Lacazette and Guendouzi.

I promise I will have cooled off on the Arsenal stuff by tomorrow.

‘Til Then!

ChAzJS