‘The Irishman’ // Film Review: Scorsese At His Finest

Sometimes it’s always unfortunate when Netflix released most of its original movies in theaters before it hits the streaming service just weeks later. Sure, it’s probably because it’s a way of bringing anything larger than life on the silver screen rather than first experiencing it on your television or computer screen, which is what I felt like Martin Scorsese’s latest crime drama The Irishman would’ve made the experience even better. I didn’t even know it was playing at the indie theater back home. But, at least there’s no better way of spending my morning than sitting through a three-hour-long epic of glory.

What’s the Story: Based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 novel “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the film follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a World War II veteran turned truck driver who becomes a hitman and gets involved with mobster Russell “Russ” Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful union leader James “Jimmy” Riddle Hoffa before his murder/ disappearance years later.

Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Ray Romano in The Irishman (2019)

The Irishman was one film that I’ve been waiting to see for the past three years when this project was finally getting off the ground, and that’s mainly due to the three epic stars in the forefront and Scorsese behind the camera once again. It was those things that made this one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Despite his ridiculous comments about saying superhero movies aren’t considered cinema, he is a true director of Hollywood that’s able to change up his style once in a while, but just know how to handle the right story that’s made for him. And if I had to be honest, I’m one of those people who thought his last film Silence was underwhelming despite the efforts thrown into it. But after years of making this happen and a huge budget of $159 million, it’s easy to see why everybody has fallen in love with the Oscar-winning director fifth film this decade because The Irishman is pretty marvelous.

Question: Even if all of his films aren’t considered the greatest, has Scorsese’s direction in his entire filmography felt flat? Absolutely not. This is some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen all year, where it has that style to fit perfectly into the late 1970s. For someone who didn’t know a lick about Jimmy Hoffa, he paints this story to make us understand each person’s struggles into what life has become with both Sheeran and Hoffa overtime working together. Just about every scene is gorgeous with the typical camera movements he’s known for and just having moments of characters having long conversations that are meant to be funny, tense, or both, and it truly felt like these actors cared about what was written for them.

But you go into The Irishman hoping to see some great performances from these iconic actors, and they didn’t leave me wanting more. It was just nice to see De Niro, Pacino, and freakin’ Pesci in one movie together because it probably won’t happen again after this. They worked together before in other movies (Heat, Casino, etc.), but something on this scale is even better.

De Niro as Frank Sheeran gave the best performance he’s ever given since Silver Linings Playbook with a role that’s made for him. I think what took me by surprise about this character is that he’s someone portrayed to be complex with his morals to wondering if what he’s doing is wrong. Not the kind of role for him to play in a mob movie, but here we are. But I wouldn’t say he stole this entire film since Pacino steals every single scene he’s in. Could you also believe this is the first time Pacino and Scorsese worked together? Crazy, right? I thought he was incredible as Jimmy Hoffa to where I forgot it was him and made Hoffa feel like a real person. Any moment where it’s yelling Pacino is the best because doing an impression of him when he’s angry is always a guarantee. Seeing Pesci back on screen after being retired was something we all needed. This isn’t the type of character that’s similar to his Oscar-winning performance as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas, as it’s more of a layered and calmer role for himself to play.

Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Ray Romano in The Irishman (2019)

The rest of the supporting also needs to be mentioned, including Ray Romano as Bill, Russell’s cousin and Jimmy’s attorney, Harvey Keitel as Sicilian mobster Angelo Bruno, Jesse Plemons as Jimmy’s adoptive son Chuckie O’Brien, and Stephen Graham as Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano. Anna Paquin shows up as Frank’s daughter grown up, and she didn’t have a lot to do besides being distant from her father.

Screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York) fully understood that a story like this needs to be handled gratefully without ruining its central tone when it takes us through Sheeran’s life that shares its good and bad times along the way. This is filled with some great moments of dialogue that you buy. The film was told in a nonlinear narrative since it goes from the past and present to when this was all happening. Some things might not be clear at first, especially when it’s dealing with the mob and gangsters, but it’s because the talents on-screen knew what was given to them.

Now, how are the de-aging effects in here? That aspect of the film that had me worried at first when its script needed to do a flashback. When the trailers came out, it was a little noticeable, but they probably weren’t finished. Luckily, I thought it was very seamless after a while and I bought De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci looking younger. A director like Scorsese who has done nothing like this before took the risk, and he pulled it off. So, props to Industrial Light & Magic and visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman for making it not look bad.

At its core, its themes are family, brotherhood, and betrayal are all present in The Irishman. The decisions we make throughout our lives aren’t always easy. But what does it mean when its purpose is to make a living and care for those you care about? Another film that’s much so almost the same is Goodfellas, which made me want to watch it as soon as this was over. The comparisons will get mentioned by a ton of people, including me since I believe Goodfellas is an American classic, but there’s no escaping that fact even though they’re a bit different in what they’re going for. This is the absolute perfect companion piece. Probably the best way to describe is like a glass of aged wine that doesn’t get bitter with each slip.

If there were any amount of problems to be found, this is three-and-a-half hours long, making it the longest film in Scorsese’s career, and really the first two hours was surprisingly moving at a steady pace thanks to Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Around the 140 minute mark is when it does become a bit of a slow burn for a while, but it didn’t make the rest of it boring, as the story was still keeping me invested.

The Irishman is Scorsese’s best film since The Wolf of Wall Street. Sure, it might be over three hours long, but it’s able to keep you engaged from start to finish. The direction was flawless, outstanding powerhouse performances from all three leads, and a fantastic script to cap it all off in being one of the best movies of the year. Out of all the films that are being talked about for the Oscars, this is the first one I’ll say is the front runner for Best Picture unless anything else that comes out at the end of the year proves me wrong.

Also, once you hear “In the Still of the Night” by The Five Satins, it will get stuck inside your head for the rest of the day.

Grade: A-

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