Despite his ‘controversial’ opinion on Marvel movies, I love Martin Scorcese. And while I have enjoyed his more ‘experimental’ phase over the last few years, I think we were all excited to see him return to the genre that he helped define. In many ways, it’s as though he never left, but The Irishman is a gangster flick with a difference. It feels like a culmination of Scorcese’s whole career, mixing the fiery energy of Goodfellas with the spiritual exploration of Silence to create a film with as much soul as it has shots fired.
The Irishman tells the life story of Frank’ The Irishman’ Sheeran (De Niro), from WWII veteran to mobster hitman, as he recalls his possible involvement with the assassination of union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
The Irishman is a story of immense scope, spanning nearly 60 years of Frank Sheeran’s life. Through a combination of CGI and make-up, Scorcese ages De Niro and co. up and down across decades, and the results are frankly remarkable. The first time you see De Niro’s younger self is off-putting – something doesn’t feel right about it. But as you settle into it and begin to see the effects in motion, any doubt you had vanished entirely, and you are watching a 90’s era De Niro light up the screen again. This film is some of the best de-ageing work I’ve ever seen.
Although the cast might resemble former Scorcese characters, The Irishman requires very different performances. It’s telling a story about legacy in an almost eulogistic way, looking back at past actions and reflecting on their consequences. There is an incredible amount of pathos associated with these character’s stories, and the actors reflect this brilliantly. Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa is as explosive as you’d want him to be, while still offering glimpses of quiet intimacy and insecurity. Joe Pesci’s Russel is gentle, scheming and a million miles away from the raging Tommy DeVito of Goodfellas. De Niro, in particular, gives a beautifully nuanced performance.The phone call scene in the final hour is a mesmerising display of repressed emotion and guilt. All three of the icons are at their absolute best.
Much has been made of the film’s mighty runtime – clocking in at 209 minutes. But a movie of this magnitude requires a certain amount of real estate. And while any film that’s nearly three and a half hours long is going to feel long, The Irishman does more than enough to justify that length. Together with his editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorcese creates these drawn-out, often stationary takes, letting each conversation, each glance, each moment play out for as long as it needs to. You can almost feel yourself ageing along with the actors in these scenes, and it suits the tone and themes of the film perfectly. Scorcese is keen to remind us of our mortality – certain characters get introduced with a little tag explaining how they will eventually be killed because that’s the real idea behind The Irishman. Everyone, even mobsters and hitmen, has limited time and Scorcese wants you to consider what you will do with that time and what impact you will leave behind.
The Irishman is a slow-moving, reflective take on the price of living your life as a gangster. De Niro, Pacino and Pesci are on top form, as is Scorcese himself. Surprisingly funny, shocking with an incredibly moving climax. He may not like the MCU, but this is Scorcese’s Endgame. One of the best of the year.