It’s #MovieTalk bishes!!
The Irishman (2019)
Directed by: Martin ScorceseWritten by: Steven Zaillian, (based on the book by) Charles BrandtStarring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino,Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Anna Paquin
Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who becomes a hitman, gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino and his crime family, and ends up working for the powerful Teamster, Jimmy Hoffa.
What a dream lineup! Scorcese reteaming with DeNiro and Pesci for the first time in almost 25 years and Keitel for the first time since the 80’s (don’t quote me on this) and oh, finally directing Al Pacino FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!! In a mobster movie, no less! This team could have made a 2 hour long Pepsi commercial and I’d watch it… hell, I’d even drink a Pepsi while watching it (yuck). It’s a shame this only gets a limited run in the theatres because of the whole Netflix Vs Theater chains beef that is so dumb and petulant and in which the biggest loser is us, the moviegoers.
I was actually on the hunt for a theatre showing the Ian McKellan/ Helen Mirren thriller, “The Good Liar”, when I landed on a small, arthouse location screening “The Irishman” and I fucking lost my shit! But would it be worth the 2.5hr commute EACH way (that’s 5 HOURS folks!) on top of a 3.5-hour runtime?
“The Irishman” is a film only Martin Scorcese could have made and only at this late stage in his career. It could only have starred DeNiro and Pacino, whose legacies and 40-year long friendship are essential to the characters they portray: union man turned hitman, Frank Sheeran (DeNiro) and renowned Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), one of two core friendships at the centre of this film. I can’t imagine anyone but Pesci (who was offered the role a reported 50 times before he agreed to come out of retirement) filling the role of Russell Buffalino, Frank’s other core friendship and direct link to the mob.
For that matter, it’s tough to imagine any studio but Netflix putting up the $160 million+ budget this film required due to extensive use of de-ageing technology on the main cast, to show their journey from the mid-1950s through to as late as the early 2000s. These and so many other pieces had to fall perfectly in place for us to be able to witness what is nothing short of a legacy tribute to these great talents and indeed to the genre itself.
Have you ever watched a film so compelling with characters so full, so rich, that you wonder what their lives were before the film started, or what became of them after the credits roll? In a way, you could say “The Irishman” finally answers those questions.
I’m not going to get into the plot because it’s not essential to this review or to whether or not this is a film worth checking out. It’ll be on Netflix by the end of the month and for years to come, once the inevitable awards-season fervour calms down, you’ll hear every now and then someone discovering it for the first time and remarking how they can’t believe they’d never given it a try, perhaps scared off by its runtime or initial pacing. I could tell you everything that happens in this movie and it wouldn’t change your experience of it because the plot is sort of besides the point here. “The Irishman” has all the things you’d hope for in a mob movie (violence and crime and quotable dialogue and exaggerated hand gestures, etc) but it’s so much more than that. It’s a contemplation on why we become the people we become. And if our sacrifice is worth it in the end. And what of the end, if it does in fact end?
If I sound vague it’s cos I’m still trying to absorb and engage with the themes of this film. I feel so lucky to have gotten to experience it on the big screen and it’s fucking blasphemy that it won’t get a wide run so all who’ve worshipped at the altars of DeNiro or Pacino or Scorcese might get the chance to pay their respects to this monumental work.
To keep it 100, I have never been a particular fan of the mob movie genre. It took a very long time for the charms of “Goodfellas” and “Casino” to woo me and I never got on board with the “Godfather” films. I know they’re good or whatever but how many times do I need to have the rest of our experiences and identities written off as “Spics”, “Kikes”, “Orientals” and “Moulinyan” or whatever fucked up term they use to call black people niggers? I get it, the Mafia were mad racist; I don’t need to be hammered over the head with it for 2 hours. And the way women are used as props in these films… generally, I wouldn’t call myself a fan.
Does “The Irishman” fare any better in those areas? Not really, I’m sad to say, and there’s been some chatter over the fact that Anna Paquin (Oscar winner Anna Paquin!) who’s the top credited female cast member, only says 7 words in the whole film. 7. I counted cos I’d heard of the controversy beforehand. She’s on screen quite a bit and her relationship with Frank is a big deal, but yeah, 7 words.
Forget all that for now though, the movie’s fucking beautiful. And Pacino gives one of the best performances of his career. Yes, I know how lofty a statement that is but he knocks it out of the park. The whole cast is solid and Pesci will surprise many with how different this character is from the loud, wildly unpredictable characters he’s played in previous Scorcese collaborations. Add this to the list of films I wish Ebert would have lived to see and write about.
Some side notes:
- Despite how much the technology has improved, I truly hope this de-aging wave is just a fad and that it dies soon. It’s fucking creepy.
- During the promo tour for this film, Scorcese found himself embroiled in a storm after he stated (in response to a direct question) his not so high opinion of Marvel movies- basically that he doesn’t consider them cinema so much as theme park experiences. The brouhaha got so heavy that Scorcese felt compelled to elucidate his take through an essay which, as it turned out, I ended up mostly agreeing with (essentially that his critique was more of the current movie eco-system that’s built on franchises and proven IP at the cost of originality and risk-taking). I was just tickled that the Marvel fandom basically bullied one of the great storytellers of our time into an essay defense of a 20-second remark he’d made during an interview.
- Netflix put up $160m for this film (some estimates have it as high as $200m) and are now splashing out another $50m to $100m for the awards campaigning they’re gonna do for it. There’s just no way that’s sustainable, nor should it be. It shouldn’t take a quarter of a billion dollars for “original, risk-taking movies” to have a shot at making it to the Oscars, least of all when they never actually get a wide run in theaters. Who is that all for then?
- There are 2 black guys in this film, neither with speaking roles BUT I don’t recall hearing “moulinyan” in the movie either sooooo… kind of a win?
- My favorite moment came at the climax of the film where, if you’ve read the logline and were born after the 70’s, you can pretty much divine, but during our screening the lady behind me gasped LOUDLY when the moment came and then sighed. She was that invested. I love that kinda shit.