The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Martin Scorsese. The greatest living American filmmaker (and a personal favorite) has created what has to be his last film in the genre. A sobering, reflective look at the mob world, one that Scorsese knows inside-out, but this time around explores something far more poignant and personal. The long opening tracking shot, one of his many signatures, isn't through a gangster's den or a busy kitchen, but of an old folks home, where the protagonist Frank Sheeran (DeNiro) currently resides. This opening shot sets the tone for what is to come, a subversion of his tropes, in one of his most profound films to date.

Scorsese fans eager to see the director back in this world will be pleased by the first two acts. This is a feast for the ages, to savor the director's most common themes of Catholicism, guilt, violence, loyalty, and family. He has revisited these themes many times over and has consistently found new avenues to explore them. Scorsese has never shied away from the mob's code of honor and the corruptible nature of violence, but unlike Goodfellas, there is no fun, no entertainment, no self-indulgence. In The Irishman, these moments are sad, bleak, and empty. The final hour of this film might be some of the director's most compelling work to date, as he looks back on not only the films he has done, but at his own life, his relationship with his children, and his contribution to cinema. He has made plenty of mob films in the past, but The Irishman seems to be the one that Scorsese truly believes the world to be, one of nothing but despair, loneliness, and bloodshed. There is something quite magical about movie making when we can see the director behind the camera, when we can understand him and connect to him.

Just how Frank Sheeran went from a meat driver to one of Jimmy Hoffa's most trusted confidantes forms the crux of the emotional arc of The Irishman in Steve Zailian's 209 minute script. Though not everything in this script is necessary to the themes or the central narrative, there isn't a second wasted, and Scorsese gives us plenty of wild characters, atmosphere, and impeccable camerawork to keep it from feeling sluggish. There isn't a world where a 3 1/2 hour film doesn't drag, but The Irishman might be one of the first that doesn't. Much of this credit also has to go to one of Scorsese's oldest collaborators, Thelma Schoonmaker who has the incredibly challenging task of editing a film that has flashbacks within flashbacks and numerous storylines. Let this film be a lesson to all editors on how to transition from scene to scene with perfect harmony and balance.

Robert DeNiro hasn't collaborated with Scorsese since 1995's Casino, and this film will mark another highlight for the Hollywood legend. There is plenty of praise being thrown behind the work of Pacino and Pesci, but for me it is DeNiro's portrayal of Frank Sheeran that takes the cake. His is a Frank Sheeran that at first is only in it for the money, but when handed a gun, is shown to be completely capable of violence. There is a scene early on when Frank takes his daughter Peggy (the older version is played by Anna Paquin) to a grocery store to beat up the man who touched her. This is her first exposure to his capabilities and this moment serves as a turning point in her relationship with her father. She no longer sees him has her father, but a gangster, living in a gangster's world. Her increasingly appalled glares serve as Frank's conscience and reflections in his amoral world. When Frank finally leaves this life behind, he finds himself with nothing to live for. The phone call he makes to Hoffa's wife is a devastating sequence that makes you forget about the horrible things he has done in his life. Pesci's mild mannered Russell Buffalino is a stark departure from his explosive characters, but his quiet intimidation is threatening nonetheless. Pacino, in his first outing with Scorsese, gets to do his usual histrionics in his own bombastic way, but manages to give Hoffa curious sympathy and understanding.

The de-aging factor has to be addressed as it was frustratingly discussed for years before its eventual release, and somehow the process is barely noticeable. While there are occasional issues, thanks to the sophisticated computer technology and exquisite cinematography, utilizing different lighting and hues, they manage to pull of this complicated effect with aplomb.

I'm not sure why I doubted Martin Scorsese, but regardless I did. Everything from the Netflix to the re-shoots to the frankly uninteresting trailer, scared me into thinking that this might be the one bad movie in his stellar filmography. Thankfully, he shut me up. This is a grand, incredibly polished epic from the legendary Martin Scorsese, who at 77 years old refuses to put out a clunker. The Irishman revisits several of Scorsese's motifs, but in a far more elegiac, melancholic, and contemplative tone.

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