The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★½

I've been watching Martin Scorsese's films since "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," and he is clearly one of the greatest filmmakers of the modern era. He has several uncontested (by anyone whose perspective I value) masterpieces, he has been front and center on film restoration and rescuing forgotten greats, and he is encouraging and supportive of younger film directors that could use a leg up. I love the guy.
So far, it seems people either love this film, or they feel as though they should love it. I'm not talking about high school reviewers on IMDB saying it was boring and too long; their attention spans are challenged by an episode of Robot Chicken. I'll watch this again, for a third time, because there's enough here to make me want to see it again, but I don't think this will wear like"Mean Streets," "Raging Bull," "Goodfellas," "Taxi Driver," "Last Temptation," or even "Casino." Because it has so many of Scorsese's long time players, I can't help but compare it to those greats, and honestly, it comes up wanting a bit.
Seeing it in a theater, which won't be most people's experience, creates a problem that might not be so glaring on the small screen, and that's the de-aging process. I'm sorry to say, but I'm just not convinced this was the way to go here, but it's less glaring on a TV. On a big screen, it was hard to ignore the effect, and it was distracting; it took me out of the movie several times. It's not just the weird CGI of the faces, but these are guys in their 70's, and they walk and move like guys in their 70's. That's not so bad when they're supposed to be in their 60's, but guys in their 40's stride when they walk, they don't step gingerly with that old man gait.
De Niro was fine as a young Vito Corleone in "Godfather II" and while using a different actor for a younger version of a character has challenges, de-aging only works on the faces. A 76-year old De Niro curb stomping a guy, looking like your grandfather attempting a jig is pretty disconcerting. It's actually a somewhat cringe-worthy scene, and it's just as troublesome on the small screen. I wish I could say I can overlook it, but no, it's just not right.
OK, so I'm not a big fan of de-aging, but there are other issues. First, I don't know whether Frank Sheeran really did all that he said he did in his book, but this plays as though it's gospel truth. There's a lot of convenient coincidences, but I'm willing to just go along, knowing that hey, it's just a movie, you have to allow some artistic license. Who knows, maybe it all took place just as Sheeran wrote it, but I'll file some of these things as big maybe's.
The performances are where this movie really shines. Pesci has been lauded by nearly everybody, and for good reason-he's the best thing about this film. His de-aging even works the best, and is the least distracting. De Niro and Pacino do what De Niro and Pacino always do. If you like them, and I definitely do, you know what you're going to get. Yes, Pacino doesn't look that much like Hoffa, and if you're under 50, you probably don't know enough to care, but looks aside, Pacino is the right guy for this role. He and Hoffa share that outspoken, in your face quality that is both appealing and off putting.
The women in this movie are much more in the background that characters like Lorraine Bracco's Karen, and Sharon Stone's Ginger, and while these were the kind of mob guys that left the wife and family in the dark about most of what went on in their business, I don't quite understand why you would cast an actress like Anna Paquin, but not really use her to do more than be an observer. An odd choice. There are lots of characters in this, and only a few get a chance to make any sort of impact. Ray Romano does great work in a couple scenes, as do Jesse Plemons and Domenick Lombardozzi, but the film revolves around Bufalino, Sheeran, and Hoffa, so no one else, even Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno, gets a lot of screen time.
I've already seen this twice, and I found it worked better on a smaller screen. I have a projector, but I watched it on a TV instead, and the problems I've described were muted somewhat. I definitely would recommend it if you're already a fan, and even if you are only a casual one, but I can't jump on the praise bandwagon that has this as the equal of Scorsese's best. It has a lot to like, but Scorsese has done this so well in the past, that it's hard not to compare this to his best work. It may grow on me. It wouldn't be the first time that has happened, but for right now, I'd say I liked it, with reservations.

Jim liked these reviews