Swartacus’s review published on Letterboxd:
It’s everything they say it is and more...Scorsese’s Unforgiven, Scorsese’s Once Upon a Time in America, the 3rd installment in a trilogy with Goodfellas & Casino, a long hard look at aging, and 15 different emotional gut punches from a master storyteller.
That’s all fine and dandy, I expected that. What I didn’t expect is to feel the total “humanity” of it all. The Scorsese of Silence as much as the guy who did Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. In particular the way it feels in life when you try so fucking hard to change someone. You try and try and try again...ramming your head into the wall. You watch other people try...some give up right away, some ignore the issue completely and others literally FIGHT for the change to occur in that person. In the end it doesn’t matter, some people are just completely hardwired to a certain type of fate. They are completely powerless and so are you. It’s part of life. It’s the spice of life really...if we are all the same we die never having meant anything to anyone. But mostly if we compromise at every turn (or just follow orders like Frank did his whole life) we mean nothing to ourselves because we never learn who we really are.
God I missed Joe Pesci, what an absolute revelation he is here. So perfect. I love how we get to finally see a gangster Pesci finally live a long and interesting life as a “made” guy. Yet it doesn’t really matter that he did. Whether he died from a baseball bat beating in a cornfield or as a shriveled old man dunking his bread into grape juice...he was still a killer and an asshole. There’s poetry to that.
Like Casino, DeNiro is the anchor and “straight man” who probably won’t get enough credit for the comeback performance this truly is, and I never once thought about the CGI de-aging. Not once!
The real star here is Pacino though, I was so stoked to see a puffed up “you’re building a rat ship!” Scent of a Woman Pacino (and there are some epic moments of that Pacino) ...but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t one of the most well rounded characters I’ve ever seen him play. I mean he had the hardest job of any of them right? Most people remember Hoffa as a newsreel cartoon, or that weird haircut they gave Nicholson to play him in the 90s ...if they even remember Hoffa at all. Pacino makes this guy a human being, someone we actually care about. Someone who is quiet and loud. Strong and weak. Bullheaded mook and brilliant evil genius. This may be one of Pacino’s best performances ever. He looks like Godfather III, but acts like Scent of a Woman, Carlito, and Lefty from Donnie Brasco all at the same time. I would have loved to see what Marty could have done with a young 70s or 80s Pacino...but I’ll take this character and savor it right now. It’s pure mastery of craft.
As for Scorsese...he is constantly leaving dangling power lines in the frame throughout the film. For some reason this really resonated with me. Maybe it’s just because occasionally I like to snap nature pictures with my phone when I go hiking in the woods ...and power lines destroying a shot of a tree annoys the fuck out of me. However, knowing Scorsese he has to be saying something with this right? Like all the “X”’s in frame during The Departed...
What I take out of this was in the hey day of the mob (and the 50s and 60s in general) everyone was “wired in” to everyone. Everyone and everything was “taken care of” ...Government institutions, the pensions, the dude who brings Hoffa ice cream in prison, the Jewish laundromat in Delaware, etc., etc. We were so much smaller then, we had so much trust in everything...then along came the con men and the rats in every walk of life and the great “cord cutting” began.
“And then we fucked it all up.”
-Nicky Santoro (Casino)