Director: Martin Scorsese
Script: Steven Zaillian
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Ramano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keital, Jack Huston
Running time: 209 minutes
Based on the book ‘I heard you paint houses’ by Charles Brandt, Martin Scorsese’s film The Irishman is yet another love letter to the Italian mob culture of the 50s, 60s and 70s that the director is so fascinated by. Narrated, at least for some of the time, by an elderly DeNiro playing the main protagonist, Frank Sheeran, (a mob hit-man who was given the role of babysitting trade union man Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino)), the film treads similar ground to some of Scorsese’s earlier mob hits, but also has enough character of its own to be refreshing. Whereas films such as Casino and Goodfellas enjoy showing us how the mob of those periods ran their operations, The Irishman is more of an intimate character piece about friendship and betrayal at a Shakespearean level.
The film swaps timelines a fair bit, which can get mildly confusing, but the fashions on display help to delineate the different decades, as do the cars and the settings that the actors dwell in. At nearly 3.5 hours long, The Irishman, probably extends its welcome a little, and is somewhat over-indulgent at times, but if you’ve got the onscreen talent that Scorsese has gathered ‘under one roof’ then why not… Sadly, the females tend to get side-lined, but are still integral to the intimate nature of the film, especially with regard to Frank’s fractious relationships with his daughters. But, at its heart, The Irishman is about a deep friendship that ‘goes south’ in the end, but only because if Frank doesn’t pull the trigger he knows someone else will and he’ll wind up dead too!
As you’d expect with a Martin Scorsese film the period details (check out The Shootist playing at a cinema in the background) and set design are excellent and the dialogue very authentic too. I particularly liked the line: ‘Three people can keep a secret, but only when two are dead!’ Although I wasn’t so convinced by the implication that the mob had had President Kennedy shot because he’d reneged on a deal to open up Cuba and let the mob run that country’s casinos.
Scorsese also doesn’t skimp on the sudden bouts of extreme violence that he’s well known for, with some quite, albeit it only brief, graphic murders sprinkled throughout the film’s lengthy running time. And Robbie Paterson’s score suits the decades-spanning visuals extremely well. The film is nicely shot and includes some great drone/helicopter establishing shots.
However, the highlight of the film, at least for me, were the performances, and it’s great to see De Niro and Pacino going toe-to-toe in a number of scenes, plus Joe Pesci has a great scene with Al Pacino too. I especially liked the ‘It’s what it is’ stand-off between De Niro and Pacino – a classic movie moment, if ever there was one.
The film bravely asks the seldom asked questions of what happens when gangsters get old and will they snitch when all their colleagues are finally all dead around them. The answers may surprise many viewers…
The Irishman is being distributed by Criterion and Netflix on Blu-ray and digital download. There are plenty of extras included on the second disc including:
Making of The Irishman (36 mins) – A decent making of documentary with some nice talking-heading interviews with both cast and crew members, although Al Pacino is wearing sunglasses indoors during his interview, which is normally a big ‘no no’ for interviews; tut, tut!
Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci (19 mins) – An informal round-table discussion amongst these masters of their craft; this is interesting stuff and I learned that De Niro and Scorsese have known each other since they were just 16 years old. It’s good seeing the group sharing memories and laughing and joking together.
Gangster’s Requiem (21.5 mins) – A video essay by Criterion Collection film critic Farran Smith Nehme who looks at The Irishman’s origins and discusses aging gangsters, a somewhat new aspect to the genre. She also refers to Martin Scorsese as the ‘Baird of American Gangsters’, which is a cool accolade to have.
Anatomy of a scene: The Irishman (5 mins) – Martin Scorsese talks through the Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night scene. Scorsese sees this as being an important, key scene, if a rather melodramatic one.
The Evolution of Digital De-aging as seen in The Irishman (13 mins) – Martin Scorsese and his visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman discuss the ground-breaking work of de-aging the main characters over the course of the 5 decades the film’s story covers, namely from 1949 until 2000. There’s plenty of technical information about new technologies in this documentary.
Frank Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa (6 mins) – Excerpts of archival interview footage featuring author Brandt who goes into macabre detail about the workings of gangsters that were active during the time period in question. For example, Jimmy Hoffa’s body was apparently found some time later in an oil drum.
Trailer and teaser trailer (4.5 mins) – Both tend to make the film look more action-orientated than it actually is.