The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★★

When being interviewed by the local news in line to see Scorsese's latest film at the Belasco theater on Broadway, I was asked if I thought this movie was one that was worth seeing in theaters. I said, "I hope so". I'm happy to report it unequivocally is, and I beg everyone, if they have the chance, to go see this in a theater with a full audience, so you can tap into what makes movies special. Being in an audience, sharing energy, and all consuming simultaneously this true Epic in real-time was nothing short of transcendent. But it’s a little different than most movies, because, for starters, no one would be there by accident; this isn't just some movie you randomly pick to see. Whether you're a fan of Scorsese, or any of it's talented cast, or the true story is a point of fascination, it does not matter, because we want to be there to experience the film at hand. But also, watching this long journey slowly develop, as building blocks are laid, and an intricately woven story coalesces, only for the final 60 to 90 minutes to really start to ponder the meaning of what it is to be alive; that’s not something you normally do with such a wide group of people. It isn’t brushed over, it isn’t surface level, it really sits there and confronts the inevitably, and it was cathartic, as well as terrifying, and that’s not something to take lightly. The Irishman delivers on every promise Scorsese has been making over his long and illustrious career.

What if Goodfellas got old? What if a movie took the time to sit in itself, well after the “events” of the film have passed? What if you got to see the entirety of an adult life, from every major decision, to major world events, to the smallest minutiae of personal decisions, all bobbing back and forth across a liminal space and time. This film constantly feels big, as if trying to encompass the whole of the human experience, not just the specificity of what it means to be a “gangster”. What Marty has always compassionately understood, is that gangsters are literally no different than any other creed - religion, politics, automotive - it doesn’t matter. Most have a leader, most have a code of ethics, or strict rules to follow, and most, when you’re in deep enough, try to treat you like family. I suppose at the end of the day, we’re all following orders, trying to make a buck, and get to the end. But then what happens when you get there? Marty is taking the time to finally reflect and maybe take responsibility for glorifying some not so great people, but in the end, what’s the difference? Will these films matter in 100 years? What about 50? I’d like to think so, but there’s no guarantee.

There’s a quiet maturity here that isn’t present in most Scorsese films; it’s still got his signature bombast in many moments, especially in the way the camera moves. There’s no shortage of suddenly craning into someone’s face from across the room, or a floating steadi-cam capturing a space in 360 degrees. But there’s an unmistakable patience that is willing to gestate on all the uncomfortability. This is how you reckon with past glory, while also still trying to pave the road in front of you. What is the legacy you want to leave behind? What is it that you learned along the way? Is it any different from anyone else?

The performances are the best from this trio that we’ve seen in well over 20 years. De Niro is a tour de force here, playing a more passive role, but he is always focused, and in it. Sincerity comes off of him with ease, and he isn’t afraid of looking kind of foolish (the de-aging looks pretty damn good I must say too; once it got going, I didn’t even notice it). There’s more than a handful of times when the emotional dial has to be turned up, and it’s never sudden, nor is it showy, but always in the pocket of realism, and I’d be goddamned if I didn’t say it’s my favorite performance so far this year. It’s a subtle work that reminds us of how this man was once hailed as the greatest of all-time. Pacino is working more within his wheelhouse, but he hasn’t picked a role this tailor made since probably The Devil’s Advocate (and even that’s leaning in the wrong direction). Hoffa is all performance, and charm; he’s a larger than life figure and this allows Al to just have fun with it. He really gets under your skin, in a way that makes Hoffa seem like your friend, not just to the people in the film. Pesci is undoubtedly the most surprising, being that he basically came out of retirement, for such a restrained role. The character is honestly one note, but he brings the depth to it. It’s a lived in person who has experienced more life than you could ever imagine, and that’s an oddly difficult thing to actually try and convey; intentionally at least.

When it comes to the script, I actually don’t want to say anything specific, just that Steve Zaillian deserves an Oscar. It’s brilliant, and what carries this thing to a whole new echelon of film-making. It’s not easy to balance what he does, but he does it so smoothly, without ever feeling bloated, or surface, and god damnit, it’s a marvel. I just think anyone should go in and let the film wash over you. Don’t try to rush it, don’t try to get ahead, just take it moment by moment. There was a point where I thought my interest was dipping, ever so slightly, then a pivotal scene happened (involving a ring, and a plead), and the last 90 minutes just carried me like a baby to the end. The seismic first half is all necessary building, before you can have such a powerful punch. This isn’t the standard Scorsese rise and fall tale, it has shades of that, but this is a lot more static… a lot more human.

EDIT: A lot of the above credit should be shared with Thelma, who just knows pacing unlike anyone else.

I don’t want to say too much, because with every word I type it feels like I’m retracting something from the film. The power lies within the frames. I will add, that once the credits started rolling, I already felt myself crying, but then when I became aware of it, I just sobbed. It was an intense release of emotion, and that’s what this film feels like; releasing into the unknown, or, the what now? Obviously I want everyone involved to keep creating for as long as they live… but there’s a selfish part of me that wants this to be all of their swan songs. This is the note anyone would dream to go out on.

I’d be more surprised if on a re-watch it wasn’t as effective, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this became my favorite Scorsese. Time will surely tell, as it always does.

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