The Irishman (2019) Review
AND THEN I STARTED
PAINTING HOUSES… MYSELF
Legendary and famed director Martin Scorsese as always had a special “affinity” towards crime dramas; making his mark in Hollywood by the ways and means of directing narratives mobsters and gangsters. Tales of intrigue, powerful men, violence, turf wars, and family dynamics within organized crime organizations has been a poignant fascination to this director, who usually gravitates in capturing this sort of “crime / mobster” genre. This includes several iconic features films that Scorsese has developed, including 1990’s Goodfellas, 1995’s Casino, 2002’s Gangs of New York, and 2006’s The Departed. Of course, Scorsese has also done non-crime dramas motion pictures, including 1980’s Raging Bull, 1993’s The Age of Innocence, 2004’s Aviator, and 2011’s Hugo, that have certainly given him his notoriety and the respect from his peers in Tinseltown as well moviegoers everywhere as an acclaimed movie director, but his true passion seems to be crime drama endeavors. Now, director Martin Scorsese and Netflix present the latest addition to the famous director’s catalogue of crime drama movies with the release of The Irishman. With plenty of hype surrounding its release, is the movie truly great (a definitive crime drama epic to Scorsese’s legacy) or is all pure hype that masks an average crime flick?
As a quiet steak delivery driver with a history of killing from his service during World War II, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) falls into the a new line of business after a chance encounter meeting with one Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a mafia boss looking for someone to help “enforce” the rules of criminal conduct in the community. Becoming a hitman for Rus, Frank cultivates a reputation for being loyal and trustworthy to the cause and merciless with his targets; eventually settling into the mobster lifestyle as well as starting a family. In time, Frank is introduced to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), whose battles as the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has turned him into a target, requiring the service of a bodyguard to extend his stretch of power he wants to amass. While Frank dutifully serves both Jimmy and Russell in their respective line of work over three decades, the toll on his life begins to take hold of him, divorcing his first wife and losing touch with his kids, including Peggy (Lucy Gallina and Anna Paquin), while the men he came up with all to begin to succumb to the violence nature of their business and aftermath of their reckless decisions.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
You guys will probably laugh at me for this, but I actually didn’t know Martin Scorsese was until I saw 2004’s A Shark’s Tale. Of course, I did have seeing several of his other works prior to this movie, but I really didn’t put a name to the face until saw him as his Shark’s Tale character of Mr. Sykes (capturing Scorsese’s eyebrows in his character). I know…laugh it up. Now, moving past that, Scorsese deserves a lot of praise for the movies he’s directed and has worked some of the top names of Hollywood acting talents, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Robert De Niro, Gregory Peck, Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daniel Day-Lewis just to name a few. As mentioned above, Scorsese’s “bread and butter” is his crime drama endeavors, with some of my personal favorites being Goodfellas and The Departed; both films are highly entertaining and well-made. Also, as a side-note, Scorsese did produce the HBO’s gangster series Boardwalk Empire (if you haven’t seeing it yet….be sure to check it out. I highly recommended it.). That being said, Scorsese’s other projects such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are also quite respected in motion pictures as well as Gangs of New York and The Age of Innocence. Plus, I do have to admit that I did like Hugo as it was sort of Scorsese’s personal “love letter” to cinema and movies. Thus, whether you love him or hate him (mostly with some people disliking him for recent his comment against superhero movies), director Martin Scorsese has certainly made his stamp on Hollywood and on the filmmaking industry.
Of course, this brings me back to talking about The Irishman, Scorsese’s latest film project and crime drama epic. To be honest, I really didn’t much about this movie until a few months prior, when it was announced that Scorsese would be releasing a new movie on the streaming service Netflix and that it would a crime drama as well as having a three-hour runtime. Of course, that got everyone’s attention to see the feature, especially since Netflix has millions of subscribers. However, I’m always a bit leery when watching a “Netflix original movie” as most of them (not all) have proven to be mediocre; a sort of “rejected” film projects that movie studios have sold off to the popular streaming service instead of releasing them in theaters. However, with film being directed by Scorsese and having an impressive cast, I was little intrigued to see the movie, but I didn’t get the chance to see The Irishman right away; due to my busy holiday schedule at work (Ugh….retail). I did hear a lot of praise about the movie, with many calling it to be Scorsese’s best as well as the best of movie of the year (i.e 2019). On the other side, however, I heard it was all hype and nothing more than a standard crime drama endeavor. So, now that I have time to actually sit down and watch it, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on Scorsese’s The Irishman. And what did I think of it? Well, it was good, but not quite as epic and masterful as some were making it out to be. With a good old-fashioned gangster mob narrative, a solid quality presentation, an impressive cast, The Irishman weaves a mobster story that’s worthy of Scorsese’s name, but isn’t his best production to date; meandering through an excessive and lengthy runtime that slows down everything. That being said, it’s still a solid piece of filmmaking.
With Scorsese have a special finesse with much of his previous projects, the seasoned and famed director approaches The Irishman with a great sensibility of crime dramas, especially with his background of doing several iconic gangster / mobster features under his belt. In that regard, Scorsese succeeds with this film; finding an underlining character driven narrative with The Irishman, with the main protagonist character of Frank Sheeran showing the rise of his power within organized crime and how he interacts with various people, including the famed Jimmy Hoffa. At its center, the movie is character driven drama; focusing on the variety of characters that come and go throughout the narrative, with Scorsese relying on the acting talents that he has selected to play them. It’s definitely good thing as the movie navigates its lengthy runtime (more on that below), but The Irishman’s story is allowed to somewhat breathe more so than the standard theatrical motion picture, with Scorsese capitalizing on the film’s ambition and giving plenty of room for character built moments (and the actors involved to showcase their screen presence and talents) and having the film’s events shaped by character’s actions and not so much on the narrative driven component. Granted, Scorsese’s past works are usually character driven piece, so it comes at no surprise that he masterfully executes this notion in The Irishman’s presentation.
Plus, the film’s script, which was based on the book by Charles Brandt titled “I Heard You Paint Houses” and penned screenplay by Steven Zaillian, takes a classic look at the rise and might of the gangster and mobsters in all of its variants of complexities, including new men, the old guard, bribing, terf wars, rivals, and the changing playing field with the events of the presidential power of the nation. All of these are interwoven into Frank Sheeran’s story, which certainly makes The Irishman rich with its narrative as events unfolds; something that Scorsese has always been a craftsman at and does so masterfully in the movie. This also includes the addition of Jimmy Hoffa, who (personally) was quite an interesting character to throw into the mix. Like Frank Sheeran says in the movie, I really didn’t know much about Hoffa (except his name and the mystery surrounding his death), so it was quite interesting to see who Hoffa was, what he stood for, and the various dealings he did.
In terms of technical presentation, The Irishman is solid and produces a fine production quality that’s worthy of Scorsese. I do have an opinion on the theatrical cinematic quality of the feature, but I’ll elaborate more on that below. Despite that fact, it’s quite clear that the movie boasts a high production value, especially with all the acting talents involved on this project. Visually speaking, the movie carries a sharp and keen look about; demonstrating Scorsese’s attention to detail with various set-pieces and background locales that definitely standout and almost act like a vast canvas character for much of the film’s presentation of a narrative that takes place through several decades and time periods in various locations. Thus, the overall “behind the scenes” team on The Irishman, including Bob Shaw (production design), Regina Graves (set decorations), Christopher Peterson and Sandy Powell (costume designs) give great work within their respective fields on the movie; enriching the narrative with their visual background aesthetics and visual nuances. Of course, this brings me to talking about the visual effects utilized in the movie, most notably in the “de-aging” of several of the film’s main characters. It’s a little bit jarring at first, especially since its juxtaposing the real-life characters (not CGI constructs or expansive blockbuster flourishes) and that many know the acting talents in question are much older than what they are, but it’s still pretty good and definitely is a much better visual representation of the de-aging process that other productions that have utilized this technology. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Robbie Robertson, is great and definitely fits perfectly through all the scenes in the movie as well as several “old timey” song selections that play throughout the feature; lending credence to the overall feeling and mood of the film.
However, while the movie has garnished a lot praise from critics and viewers, there were some problems that I noticed with The Irishman that, while Scorsese’s intent is there for an epic gangster story, isn’t his most riveting motion picture to date. How so? Well, perhaps the main problem (the one that’s the most glaring to me), is the movie’s runtime. Clocking in at around at a staggering 209 minutes (three hours and twenty-nine minutes), the film is quite long; elaborating greatly on the episodic journey that the character Frank Sheeran goes through as he ascends the ranks of gangster life. However, the problem is remains that the movie is quite long in the tooth and definitely could’ve been trimmed down for a tighter presentation. When I say trimmed down, I mean like the project easily could’ve been let go at least a good forty-five minutes to a one hour and easily could’ve replicated the same type of storytelling. Unfortunately, the extensive runtime for The Irishman hampers the feature with sort of slow-burner pace, which there is wrong with as there are several great films that are considered the “slow-burner” variety. However, The Irishman doesn’t have that profound or heavy-hitting to warrant such a lengthy runtime as it meanders through a series of episodic entries into Sheeran’s life and how he must deal with them. Again, it’s a good idea on paper and an admirable attempt for Scorsese to shape a feature with such a robust time (enough time to devote to its many characters), but the end result is mixed bag. This is heavily noticeable during the third act of the film, which seems to go on forever and ever as events sluggish move. I do get that Scorsese is trying to showcase personal moral dilemma in Sheeran’s characters (as well as the aftermath that he and others face), but pacing for this climatic act is quite off and takes an extensive amount of time to navigate, which (again) could’ve been reduced for a more tighter final cut of the movie. All in all, the overlong runtime of The Irishman is quite an ambitious and bold statement for Scorsese to make, but needs more “zip” to keep viewers invested in the hefty length and ends up with a backfire against its super long story progression; creating an overtly extended narrative that could’ve been told in a more abbreviated measure.
Another problem that I had with the movie is that overall “feeling” of the Irishman. What do I mean? Well, with its almost three and half hour length, the film does indeed feel quite long and (though this might sound a bit weird) loses its cinematic nuances. Now, what does that mean? Well, I felt like the movie was more like a limited TV series and / or mini-series (something that HBO would’ve picked up doing) rather than motion picture endeavor. It’s hard to describe this particular feeling of discerning feature film from limited TV series productions, but that’s what I feel when I watched The Irishman. It definitely works and the quality is there. However, the feeling of lacking that cinematic nuances does make the movie fell different; something that belongs on a premium subscription channel than a feature film. Furthermore, the movie (as a whole) doesn’t really “outdo” much of Scorsese’s film projects list. I do agree that it is better than some of them, especially with the collective acting talents that he has enlisted for this movie, but, compared to some of his more celebrated movie endeavors, The Irishman falls short. Again, I did like the movie…. I just didn’t think it was worth all the hype and superb praise that is has been receiving. Personally (of his gangster film), I prefer Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed over this film.
Lastly, another problem that I had with the movie is the overall voiceover narration that character Frank Sheeran (an elder version of the character being told via flashback) does throughout the movie. Of course, I do understand it’s a bit of necessity, especially since the movie threw different years and decades as well as various side characters that come and go through Frank’s life. However, it just becomes a bit much too and overstays its welcome a lot; finding almost every other scene having a voiceover narration with wide array of exposition dumps. Again, I understand why this is needed. However, I think it could’ve been toned down a bit.
That being said, what I definitely do agree with in all the praise and acclaim that The Irishman is receiving is in the film’s cast, which is (collectively) an incredible roster of actors and actresses that deliver some quality performances on this project….despite if they are major or minor players in the movie. Naturally, The Irishman’s “big three” stars certainly spearhead the film and headline that quality of the feature’s story, with actors Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino being quite a dynamic trio in the respective roles of Frank Sheeran, Russell Bufalino, and Jimmy Hoffa. First, there is De Niro, known for his roles in Cape Fear, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull, who certainly acts as the main character in The Irishman and delivers a stirring performance in the movie. The seasoned actor has always delivered quality within his performance and does so in the movie; making the character of Frank has very interesting person to follow throughout the feature’s journey and, while De Niro has certainly played that mafioso character portrayals in the past, there’s a certain uniqueness to him playing Frank, including a stammering voice of acuteness. Thus, De Niro is terrific in the role of Frank Sheeran; creating a performance that’s measured equally by the actor’s screen presence and theatrical prowess to make the character quite memorable as well as acting as the film’s central and cohesive glue of connecting everything together.
Pesci, known for his roles in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Home Alone, hasn’t been in much of the spotlight in Hollywood movies of late (nearly disappearing from the silver screen for almost a decade), so it’s quite interesting (and almost exciting) to see Pesci return to the acting world of filmmaking in The Irishman and give us (the viewers) a different side to some of his previous Scorsese works (i.e a violent hothead or mobster head honcho) with his portrayal of Rus Bufalino. Even though the character role isn’t quite the most dynamic or to outshine some of his more memorable performances of his career (i.e Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas), Pesci still delivers a quality performance and is able to make Russell an imposing / intimidating presence throughout in a low / key reserve manner. Lastly, Pacino, known for his roles in Scarface, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Godfather trilogy, makes his first collaboration with Scorsese and does quite an amazing job in playing the role of Jimmy Hoffa. As I mentioned before, I really didn’t know much about Hoffa, so I was quite keen in seeing the character develop throughout The Irishman. Likewise, I do like many of Pacino’s past performance and he certainly delivers the best performance in the movie, crafting his trademark flair and theatrical gusto to play such a larger-than-life figure in the feature; a role that is quite magnetic in his own right.
The rest of the cast, including actor Stephan Graham (Boardwalk Empire and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, actor Harvey Keitel (Life on Mars and Revisor Dogs) as Angelo Bruno, actor Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond and The Big Sick) as Bill Bufalino, actress Katherine Narducci (Godfather of Harlem and Power) as Russell’s wife, Carrie Bufalino, actress Welker White (Goodfellas and Eat Pray Love) as Jimmy’s wife, Josephine “Jo” Hoffa, actor Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire and Blue Jasmine) as Felix “Skinny Razor” Ditullio, actor Paul Herman (American Hustle and Heat) as Whispers Ditullio, actor Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire and Bridge of Spies) as Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, actor Patrick Gallo (The Deuce and Boardwalk Empire) as Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone, actor Gary Basaraba (Charlotte’s Web and Suburbicon) as Frank “Fitz” Fitzsimmons, actor Jesse Plemons (Game Night and Vice) as Jimmy Hoffa’s adopted son, Chuckle O’Brien, actor Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire and Mr. Mercedes) as Robert F. Kennedy, actress Stephanie Kurtzuba (The Wolf on Wall Street and #MotherJudger) as Frank’s wife, Irene Sheeran, and actresses Lucy Gallina (Christmas with Holly and Boardwalk Empire) and Anna Paquin (True Blood and X-Men) as the younger and older version of Frank’s daughters, Peggy Sheeran, fill out the rest of the sprawling cast of characters in the movie, with most playing supportive roles to the main ones. Each one of these acting talents certainly do give their respective characters life in a respectable way; making each one unique, fun, and interesting in their own personal distinct way. A definite high score of quality for all the acting talents present in this category. As a side-note, you can see a lot of these talents have appeared on HBO’s Boardwalk (again, I do recommend watching that series).
From lowly steak delivery driver to a powerful mobster, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran witnesses the dealings of organized crime mafiosos throughout three decades as well as the events that shaped the nation in the movie The Irishman. Director Martin Scorsese’s latest project returns the famed director to his “mobster” roots; presenting a motion picture that feels like a cinephile’s dream of an old school crime drama of fame, power, and the hard decisions that must be made. While the movie doesn’t necessarily need a nearly three and half hour cut (creating several pacing issues and sluggish along the way) as well as lacking a theatrical cinematic nuance and quite living up both the feature’s inherit hype or Scorsese’s high-level caliber of past films, The Irishman still solidifies itself as quality endeavor, especially thanks to Scorsese’s direction, a classic mobster tale, and an impressively well-acted cast (most notable in De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci). To me, this movie was pretty good, but not the super awesome praise that some are making it out to be. The story was well-thought out, the cast was superb, and it was definitely entertaining, but to considered to be Scorsese’s best feature to date is a bit of a stretch. Looking back at his other works, including Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, Gangs of New York, and The Age of Innocence, The Irishman can’t hold a cinematic light to those features. Looking past that, the movie is still rather good. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a favorable “recommended” …. just make sure that you have enough devoted “free time” to watch the movie. In the end, while it may not shake-up or redefine the cinematic realm of crime mobster / gangster endeavors, The Irishman is no doubt an ambitious film project that showcases the rise and fall of man’s life by projecting the heights of success within organized crime and the personal toll it takes on being part of it as well as Scorsese’s special affinity craftmanship of captivating crime dramas.
3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: November 27th, 2019
Reviewed On: January 10th, 2020
The Irishman 209 minutes long and is rated R for pervasive language and strong violence