The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★½

"What are you doing in Delaware?"

That's right, it's another addition to the Delaware list!

No one man should have all these masterpieces. It's another sensational picture from Martin Scorsese, the historical crime epic The Irishman. Unbelievably engaging, perfectly paced, expertly crafted, and an incredible sweeping drama bridging decades of social and political events, through the eyes of Irish hitman and mob hand Frank Sheeran. From the Philly streets to the Chicago union, from the Jersey turnpike to the D.C. office of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, Frank was there for it all.

Scorsese's longest film, it's one of the best of his career and an amazing achievement for this team of producers and performers, and screenwriter Steven Zaillian, based on Charles Brandt's I Heard You Paint Houses. Joe Pesci comes out of unofficial retirement, Robert De Niro is once again tremendous, and AL Pacino plays in his best role in easily two decades. Never bloated, never convoluted, never overwhelming, The Irishman is a brilliant epic. Though at first all you may have heard is that it was a costly Netflix film with tens of millions spent on de-aging technology -- trust me, Gemini Man this ain't -- in its three-and-a-half-hour runtime it builds not to a cataclysm of violence like other gangster pics, but to an emotional atonement and deeply moving climax. You won't sense it until Scorsese wants you to. But when it comes, it's one of the greatest statements of his untouchable career.

Though I could spent an hour recapping the gripping and unexpectedly touching story, a brief summary is enough. Told originally in a frame story from August 1975, we move in flashbacks from the 50s onward. Frank Sheeran (De Niro) is a truck driver in Philadelphia. Through some circumstance, luck, and skill, he meets Russell Bufalino (Pesci), a crime family head from whom he runs hits, deliveries, and general tough guy stuff. He makes connections all through Pennsylvania, earning the respect of local bosses the region over. Bufalino begins to trust him so much, as his right-hand man he is introduced to International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), one of the country's most powerful men; Sheeran in time becomes his bodyguard and muscle. But as the 1960s commence, and political events become intertwined in mob affairs and union power, control of the influential organization and its ties to organized crime create dangerous all eyes through which Sheeran must navigate, sharing his loyalty with two men increasingly at odds.

There are many more layers. It's both not worth spoiling and also too difficult to describe in a reasonable amount of words typed on my phone. But rest assured, this is no meandering overlong movie with characters in whom you aren't vested. Sheeran narrates -- it's not dissimilar to Henry Hill in Goodfellas, but without the cocaine-fueled chaos -- with confidence and bravado at times, sorrow and unease at others. In what becomes evident over the course of the screenplay, a brilliant one for which Steven Zaillian should earn another Oscar nomination to add to his pile at home (though I think he only has one win, for Schindler's List), Sheeran is a braggadocio to no one in particular, as Father Time is undefeated and no one is left from his era. Will he feel remorse? Should he? Will his family forgive him? Should they?

Marty brings his merry crew of actors, some of which may in fact have a career here in this film business after all. Look out for these young men named Pacino, De Niro, and Pesci. The sky is the limit. Pesci is out of this world good in this movie, like absolutely unreal. I praised Pacino earlier but good lord Pesci is the best he's ever been. If this was it for him, goddamn, what a way to cap a career.

Yes the Scorsese style is here, with brief bloody hits and the occasional irreverent humour amidst the violence and tension. (To be honest, this is actually one of his funniest films. My audience had several instances of rolling laughter.) And the filmmaker is sure to include the family dynamics that make a life of crime dangerous for those who have no involvement either, and one filled with pain and loss. And one of the all-time great pairings in cinema, Scorsese and his legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker, do it again here in The Irishman, as a 209-minute film moves with purpose and has nary a moment wasted.

Quick word on the de-aging as well: I found it done to perfection here. Yes if you freeze frame or slow the speed like some weirdo, you might catch the tiniest glitch here or there. Whatever. It's generally exceptional, and is never distracting. Hard to believe I'm condoning what some see as another nail in the coffin of traditional moviemaking, but it worked wonders here. Now, never do it again, Marty, or else. Don't make me call the Avengers on you. I hear you're beefin'.

Genuinely floored by the masterful film. There is still time to catch it in a theatre, and I hope you're near one. Please try.

Added to The Best Narrative Films of 2019.
Added to Delaware in Cinema.
Added to 2020 Academy Awards nominees, ranked.
Added to Martin Scorsese ranked.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.

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