The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★★

I’ll admit: the de-aging technology is a bit easier to catch when watching the film on your iPhone in a dark storage room at work. When I saw it in a massive theater the past two times, it was noticeable only if you look for it.

A lot of people have already painstakingly explored a lot of my talking points, which leads me to think they’re fairly discernible for someone who wants to catch them. The metatextual commentary on Scorsese’s career and other crime films; the visual homages not only to his work but to Bergman, Hitchcock, Bertolucci, and one notable filmmaker I’m not seeing as many connections to, although they’re there, is Hsiao-Hsien; the versatile, stimulating interpretations that each main actor is giving the film; I’ve only seen this in a smattering of reviews, but the ethnic importance and dynamics held firm by the characters within the film (and almost meticulously eschewed in the casting of the film—having British actors play Italians while Al Pacino plays a Slavic man prejudiced against Italians and De Niro dons the ethnicity of an Irishman); importantly for me, though it’s brought up rarely compared to the other points, is the discussion of the role the mafia plays in politics and the reversion of the American moralistic, capitalistic self-determination mythos through the even more American criminal underworld; it is also a story about the labor unions in America disintegrating thanks to “Government and Big Business”; etc. etc.

I will return to this and write out my argument as to why this is Scorsese’s best. For now, I’d like to note how moving, if not self-aggrandizing, it is for De Niro to stand so firmly behind a project like this. The past two decades have seen him fully adapt into his businessman persona, opening restaurants and fully embracing the Hollywood icon sell-out route, popularized by Brando and perfected by De Niro and Hoffman. For De Niro to place his own money and energy into The Irishman after all of this time is truly compelling. He’s frequently considered the greatest American screen actor and he’s richer than any of his fellow New Hollywood acting pals. And yet, decades after making anything in this wheelhouse, he emotionally and convincingly pushes for Scorsese to make this film about death, grief, the crushing brutality of 20th century men, and the end of all things. Better yet, he somewhat sacrifices his alpha male status to project the life of a brute, a “morally dumb” (to quote Armond White) soldier who follows the orders of demanding strongmen—from Patton to Buffalino, from Hoffa to God.

Of course this is Scorsese’s film; however, there’s been too much discounting of De Niro’s formative input and insistence. He cares deeply about this project, which is evidenced in his careful, intelligent performance as well as the unprecedented number of revealing interviews he’s giving. This follows his incessant requests for Goodfellas and Godfather reunions over the past couple of years, warning previous collaborators that they may not get another chance to meet again. De Niro, unable to share himself or the method of his work before, is now more than ever ready to embrace (probably) the last period of his life with a vigor which gave him his reputation.

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