Martin Scorsese’s three hour gangster epic, based off true stories, is an impressive spectacle if a little drawn out.
Set over the 60s and 70s, the story follows Frank Sheeran, a war veteran-turn truck driver who becomes part of the criminal underground. Spanning over several decades, we see Frank’s friendships, alliances, dangerous betrayals, and sacrifices.
There were posters for The Irishman that were exclusively a list of director Scorsese’s endless filmography. And why not? As a Netflix exclusive, the feature has far more pedigree than most others. Scorsese has been in hot water recently for backward comments about popular movies in today’s audiences, but one cannot deny that he made a name for himself throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Many of these signature movies were gangster movies, such as Goodfellas, and The Irishman is absolutely a love letter to these movies and that genre that Scorsese was steeped in for so long.
With this, he brings three iconic actors of those movies with him: Robert De Niro as Frank, Joe Pesci as his good friend and mentor Russell Bufalino, and Al Pacino as the unionist leader Jimmy Hoffa who Frank also befriends. These three play characters whose motivations interweave with one another’s, and whenever the tug and twisting of this interferes with other people… often someone else gets hurt. A dangerous game of covering for one’s interests and silencing anyone else that might rat you out.
Frank’s character is an earnest type, always looking out for those he cares about, but quickly becomes morally bankrupt as he takes on more and more unpleasant jobs. The consequences of this is felt most strongly with the declining relationship with his daughters. These girls say almost nothing, but their input still speaks volumes about the three men and their motivations.
The Irishman is known by many as the Netflix / Scorsese collaboration that utilises “de-ageing” special effects on its main stars, allowing them to jump back and forth twenty years in time liberally. This technology is well known with Disney and Marvel, recently de-ageing Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Douglas (to name just two) and here it is used in much the same way. Robert De Niro has had the most modifications, although do not expect the seventy-seven year old to suddenly look like he did in Taxi Driver, no, the film only moves between ten/twenty years, so the ageing is relatively easy on the eyes.
It is however noticeable. Especially on De Niro. It is perhaps the one thing that is bothersome about The Irishman; for all of its dramatic heft and quality actors, they are all contending with this slightly weird face. A face that shifts ever so slightly strangely, with surreal and piercing blue eyes. De Niro does not have bright blue eyes. It is very distracting at times, and will only become more obvious as time goes by.
Based off the book I Heard You Paint Houses, which documents the real life events around Frank and Jimmy, the film is a slice-of-life drama. It is very grounded as it follows the characters and their exploits, the audience watching as the pieces on the Chess board are moving around, slowly eliminated. The three hour runtime is noticeable, it cannot be denied. While the film has awesome attention to detail; the era is captured in the way that only Scorsese can achieve, and the actors are all superb in their roles, there were no knife-edge moments. No standout scenes to remember it by. All of Scorese’s films have a moment, or several, or even a visual that stays with us forever… yet The Irishman just sort of continues, with you noticing De Niro’s weird eye colour constantly.
It is easily the most competently made Netflix exclusives. The stars are doing what they’ve done best for years; it is probably like riding a bike to them by now. Of course, it is great to see them again, doing the mob talk (really makes one want to watch Goodfellas again). But if you don’t know the historical significance of these characters, these three hours will be felt.