The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★

92nd Time's the Charm (7/9)

For years, Netflix was seen as a novelty, a streaming service where you and your friends could watch either their original shows or movies that weren't too special but could be a splendid afternoon, or just fall asleep to The Office and Friends in your 50th marathon of either. Come around mid-2017, though, things started to change, as more and more major directors began to realize that staying at home became just as valuable to the consumer as going to the theater, and adapted because of that. Alfonso Cuaron's Roma was the first sign that Netflix could compete with Hollywood, but 2019 is where this competition got fierce. The announcement of Martin Scorsese, frontrunner and symbol of the theater-centric New Hollywood movement that everyone knew the name of, directing a project exclusive to Netflix was a game-changer. Being allowed the freedom of having the biggest budget and longest runtime of any of his feature films, as well as showing it in theaters ahead of its official release anyway, certainly hinted at why Marty was more than open to the idea of entering the streaming-service battle, already separated in its own differing factions (for real, can we cool it on the streaming services now, there's like 20 to keep up with). The Irishman still manages to feel exactly like how a man with over fifty years of experience would create such a project, conventional studio or not, by actively contemplating the genre that made Scorsese famous and turning it into an epic spanning a lifetime, reveling then taking apart the gangster genre in new, bold ways.

The story of Frank Sheeran and his life as a hitman is one not entirely unfamiliar to those who have seen Goodfellas and Casino, already cynical visions of the everyday affairs of the Mafia. However, the glimpses of glamorization of said life in those two is completely stripped away, reminding the viewer of the inevitability of death within these circles and how their problems of the past will fade away into irrelevance. Subtitles inform the viewer of not only who a historical figure is, but also how and when they will die, reinforcing the banality of their actions in the face of how quickly they'll go. Most of Frank's killings are also mundane, shown in wide shots rather than the flashy editing and close-ups of yore, extending even to the most personal of those that Frank kills in the film as a part of his job. The life of a hitman is unceremonious, without emotion or pity, and will lead to pointlessness given how constant the mafia life is and how socipathic they can become if even the pettiest thing sets them back.

With a Scorsese project, one can expect the best to come out of his actors, and the more subtle approach Scorsese takes here allows these old man to shine even with the de-aging going on (to be fair, I didn't think of it as really distracting). Robert de Niro as the old hitman whose living leads him to a miserable, pitiful life gives nuance and remorse once the final hour hits, and gives great comfort in that he can still be a stellar leading man even with the amount of crap he's appeared in lately. Joe Pesci is also surprising not only for his return from retirement (well, besides that Snickers ad from awhile back), but for giving a remarkable downbeat and even-tempered performance giving his usual shtick. With his more peaceful attempts at breaking apart mob feuds, Pesci gains a new level of sympathy that becomes heart-breaking in his final, bitterly realistic scenes as an old man. The level of genuine quality in its script allows for those two, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Romano (who I always confuse with Ray Liotta for no fuckin reason other than the name, great performance but this ain't gonna help my memory), to give everything they can and allow for some of the best performances in their careers, a statement that could apply for a lot of people in the cast (seriously, this film is studded with a notable cast).

The Irishman is Martin Scorsese's final statement on the gangster genre, one that shows how nearly thirty years can change the perception and importance of the Mafia, and show how a film like Goodfellas can be deconstructed further. The first 2-and-a-half-hours are traditional Scorsese in terms of basic presentation, tracking shots and fast pacing intact, but the final hour leaves in one of the most devastating ruminations of a life unimportant, where the thing that can kill any mobster and his legacy is simply age, their actions forgotten and filled with regret. The 3 1/2 hour runtime does feel its weight and I'd be lying if I said I had a comfortable time following everything that went on given how nearly forty years of time have to be compressed (though I'll freely chalk that up to circumstances that led me to watching this till 1 AM. That felt like a mistake), but it's still a towering achievement and one that I stand by as a great closer to one part of Scorsese's career. If this and Marriage Story are the future of Netflix, then I am all for it (I mean, granted, we'll still see stuff like Tall Girl, but hopefully that'll be less occurrent).

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