There is something about the mob movies that have always attracted me. Usually, these movies come with a dose of action and violence, but I believe it is more for the contradiction in values they usually portray. In one instance, it is always about the family, code of duty and loyalty, while in another they are willing to kill each other for small ambiguities. Quite contradictory don’t you find. However, this dynamic makes for great movie making like illustrated in the Godfather movies and Goodfellas.
The movie The Irishman has been promoted since they were shooting it in 2018, however it took years to develop mainly linked to financial issues. Martin Scorsese could not find anyone who could finance the movie, until an agreement was done with Netflix. Netflix gave them $159 Million to produce the movie. This gave way to bring in the old click from the other movies: Robert DeNiro (who also acts a producer on this movie), Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. Scorsese filled up the supporting roles with familiar faces which turned out great such as Harvey Keitel got a walk-on role as an old school Philly mobster. The movie also features Stephen Graham, Bobby Cannavale, Jack Huston, Domenick Lombardozzi and Ray Romano. All appear to have a great time and that was reflected in the movie.
Despite having a great cast, how does the actual movie stand up?
The movie is based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt. It is basically the life story of Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), a real-life hitman for the Philadelphia mob. He is introduced to the head of the Bufalino crime family (Joe Pesce), and eventually becomes an enforcer for the Teamsters chief Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The movie is narrated by an elderly Frank Sheeran in a nursing home. He goes through the major events of his life from being in the army killing enemy soldiers after asking them to dig their own grave, to the killing of Jimmy Hoffa. The movie covers several decades. Most of the movie takes place in the form of flashbacks of Frank Sheeran’s younger self.
The movie intertwines crime and politics which makes Sheeran’s journey richly contextualised: John F. Kennedy’s election, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban missile crisis, Robert Kennedy’s hunting of Hoffa, JFK’s assassination and Watergate. It’s hard to believe that Sheeran delivered arms to the CIA’s Howard Hunt in Florida and had a conversation about Hunt’s ears or played a role in the 1963 cataclysm coded ‘Dallas’.
DeNiro plays Sheeran as a rough, brutal person who appears to be patient as a snake waiting for his prey to make the wrong move. Pacino plays Hoffa as a ball of energy ready to burst, stomping over everyone and everything that gets into his way. This was a glorious pairing for sure. They make acting look easy when they are together on the screen. However, my surprise (however should not be) was Joe Pesci. Pesci’s Russell Bufalino is not the crazy clown of Goodfellas, nor the brash hothead of Casino. His soft voice and immovable presence combine to create a force not to be reckoned with. Everyone already wisely assumes the consequence of such a provocation might cause. This was a perfect role for an older Pesci.
Many have mentioned that in the past Scorsese sacrificed depth for momentum (action), and that with The Irishman, he went with depth more than momentum. I would tend to agree with that statement. This is best illustrated in the last half hour of the movie. We see all the characters being too old to move like they once did in their youth, and Scorsese won’t let himself either. This results in his most satisfying film in number of years.
A note on the de-aging technology. As good as it might sound on paper, despite all the advances in technology, I do not think the technology is there yet. In some instances, it was fine, but in other instances it is more distracting than anything else. Sometimes the faces and the actions do not match up. At some point Robert DeNiro climbs some rocks along the waterfront to throw a gun into the river. You can tell the man is not 20 or even 30 on how he moves. However, these are small details and the offset is to see all these great actors together probably for one last time. It is best to just roll with it and try to ignore it as much as you can.
The running time of 209 minutes is a little long. I watched it in two sessions. Maybe it would have worked better if it would have been broken into episodes. Scorsese went on record saying it would have not worked as a series, but I think breaking the story down into 3 or 4 episodes would have worked a little better.
Overall, if you are a hardcore fan of mob movies you will enjoy it. If you are looking for free violence and action every two seconds, well you will be disappointed. Does the movie live up to the hype? I have to say that this is a good dramatic movie, a good vintage movie for the fans of Godfather and Goodfellas. However, is it epic as a movie, I would say no. The movie is basically a Goodfellas without the violence bottom line. It did not really bring anything new to the table. It is a pleasure to see all these actors together, and in that sense it is epic. You will probably not see that again since not only because they are getting up in age, but it would be too expensive for any studio to put that much star power in one movie.
This is a great movie for nostalgia, not only in the subject matter but with the actors. It is a great tribute to all those actors that made the mob movie a staple in modern day pop culture. The movie might be slow at times however any fan of the mafia movies will appreciate the film making of Martin Scorsese. Despite the de-aging technology not being perfect, it allowed the actors to play their younger selves which kept with the flow of the flashbacks and in the end a minor detail.
I give this movie an 8 out of 10. Check it out on Netflix.