Martin Scorsese is rightly acknowledged as one of the great American film directors. With 11 Oscar nominations and one win under his belt, he is highly regarded as one of the greatest directors in the film industry. His latest gangster epic had difficulty finding financing, so he turned to Netflix for help.
Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian, “The Irishman” follows the real-life story of Frank Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro. The story stretches all the way back to his service in World War II, meeting crime boss Russel Buffalino, played by Joe Pesci, up to his possible involvement with the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino.
A gangster story that spans multiple decades and stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci will logically bring Scorsese’s 1990 classic, “Goodfellas,” to mind. These films serve as fascinating two sides of the same coin. All three of these men are in their late ‘70s and, to be honest, they can not make the same movie they made almost 30 years ago.
Rather than taking an intoxicating look at the world of gangster excess, “The Irishman” is a sobering meditation on what all the killings and exhortation really led to. In fact, there are multiple instances when characters are introduced, there is a freeze-frame as text is overlayed telling us their name, the date of their death, and how they died. For these storytellers, everyone has an endgame and this affects their perspectives.
The opening shot of “The Irishman” is set in a retirement home as we shuffle down the halls and through the rooms to come across Frank Sheeran, sitting in a wheelchair as he begins to give a monologue to the camera about his life. This starts off a flashback to Frank in his 40’s and then in that time he reminisces about his service in the war as we see that. The timeline may sound confusing as the stories feel like Russian nesting dolls; with one story spawning the memory of another time, but Scorsese’s direction is clear and it never becomes frustrating.
The biggest distinction for “The Irishman” is the logo that pops up at the beginning of the movie. This is a Netflix production and it just became available to stream on the site on Nov. 27.
Clocking in at a little under 3 1/2 hours, it isn’t something you can pop on quickly, you need to set some time aside to really watch it. However, if you can binge an entire season of “Stranger Things,” you can get through this.
It has been a very long time since the three leading actors have been in something of this caliber. Joe Pesci has essentially been in retirement since “Lethal Weapon 4” in 1998, and Robert De Niro has given supporting performances in comedies like “The Intern” and “Dirty Grandpa.” Worst of all, Al Pacino ended up in Adam Sandler’s sorry excuse for a comedy, “Jack and Jill.” All of them were clearly revitalized by working with material of this quality. Al Pacino’s performance is the most dynamic as the union boss. He can go from angrily cursing out a room of subordinates to sweetly apologizing to De Niro as something is taken the wrong way. He is definitely in consideration for Best Supporting Actor nominations.
Over the past couple of months, Martin Scorsese has been in some hot water for his opinion on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Last month, during an interview with Empire Magazine, Scorsese said, “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
So, the way Martin Scorsese is able to make the internal feelings external is through his cast. All of the actors play their younger selves and are made to look younger through post-production CGI. This gives the characters the opportunity to relive their past and then realize that maybe they weren’t so glorious.
The lack of passion gives the story its spirit.
This may not be Scorsese’s last film, with another four lined up for development, but if it was, it would be an incredible swan song. It is the kind of retrospection that you could expect from a filmmaker at the end of his career, yet it isn’t over yet.