Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Steve Zaillian
Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin
Arriving at certain points in life provides the opportunity to reflect on everything that transpired in the past. The most prominent one being the time when one is weaker, older, and not surrounded by the same type of life held in their youth. The Irishman serves as a complete reflection of life’s triumphs, regrets, and missteps.
Now living in a retirement home, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) looks back on his life, as a licensed killer for different men throughout his heyday. Whether it be for a connected mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) or union giant Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Never his own man, Frank reflects on how he’s failed certain people in life and what it meant to truly “paint houses.”
Gathering this large collection of screen legends is no small feat yet, Martin Scorsese created a masterful chronicle of life with the very actors that helped launch his career. It’s certainly a story that he could not have made when he was younger because its incisive nature about aging comes from a very personal perspective. This closes the book of a genre Scorsese brought to life in Mean Streets, perfected with Goodfellas, and now concludes perfectly with The Irishman. Many have imitated his style and techniques, but with this film, Scorsese caps off the mob genre in the way only he could.
With mob films comes the inevitability of violence, as these men asserted their dominance and territory through implied force and executing it if necessary. These types of films may be bloody and very gratuitous in its implementation, but The Irishman expertly takes away the excitement behind this type of violence. Every time Sheeran needs to make a kill, he does so in a manner of such ruthless quickness that feels cold. No dwelling or glorification involved, it’s simply part of the job that Sheeran must carry out. It added a different element to those kill scenes that haven’t been displayed in mob films of the past because the deaths ultimately do not matter. Everyone is just a name on a list.
The collection of actors within this film is simply outrageous and even with Scorsese bringing back his regulars, he creates his first collaboration with Al Pacino. A combination that seems written in the stars but nonetheless was nonexistent until Pacino’s role as Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino has almost become a meme with how much he shouts in his roles but he brought it all and it worked so well. His turn as Hoffa not only had the gumption that brought him fame, but also a sweetness to the character that truly humanizes him. At the very least, Hoffa’s tenure on this earth can be classified as complicated, making many enemies along the way making him an interesting character to take on. Previously being portrayed by Jack Nicholson, Pacino instilled his own variation to this character and does so in the most Pacino way possible.
The titular role fell in the hands of Robert De Niro, who along with Leonardo DiCaprio have served as the main muses in Scorsese’s filmography. For the many subpar films he has attached his name to this century, he never fails when working with Scorsese. Whether it be Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Taxi Driver, or Cape Fear. This collaboration gave the world some of the best films and performances ever put to the silver screen and once again they create an affectionate letter to the genre that brought their rise. De Niro needs to capture the life of a man lacking any semblance of an identity. Drifting through life one job at a time, Sheeran cannot make the difficult decisions in life. De Niro provides that vulnerability with the exterior of a prideful man. A beautiful performance by the legend and once again demonstrates his acting prowess.
The most surprising performance unquestionably belongs to Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino. Brought to fame with Scorsese as well with eccentric roles in Goodfellas and Casino, Pesci has made a name for himself for a specific type of performance. Add in My Cousin Vinny and Home Alone, one would think they have him figured, but what he accomplishes in this film astonished me. Pesci employed such a calming presence in the role without sacrificing any of the ruthlessness. Soft-spoken without mincing many words, Pesci conveys his intentions with a simple look or phrase that translates to sinister intentions. I kept waiting for the moment where he would lose it but the character maintained composure and with a simple “It’s what it is,” changes the entire trajectory of the narrative. Pesci delivers the goods and one of the greatest performances in his illustrious career.
Impeccable acting was on the menu for this film when considering the smaller yet potent performances like Anna Paquin, who portrays Sheeran’s daughter, Peggy. A role that has landed with scrutiny due to a lack of lines but her silence throughout the narrative serves as an indictment to the lifestyle of Frank Sheeran. Harvey Keitel, another Scorsese regular, added his quiet ferocity in a couple of scenes but Ray Romano’s performance became such a pleasant addition to the plot. Serving as a lawyer for the union workers, he employs his comedic chops to bring levity to the story. Every small character leaves their impact in the story and the way they’re interwoven into each other’s lives demonstrates the strength of the writing and direction.
On a technical level, the visual effects will land differently for everyone. The de-aging techniques implemented in the film allow De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino the ability to portray these characters throughout decades of their lives. At times it may appear like video game graphics but most of the effects work fits in well. While it can do wonders to the face, de-aging could never replace the body movements of men in their 70s. De Niro has scenes that involve physical movement like kicking where it appears a 40-year-old has the agility of a man many years his elder. Admittedly, a limitation in the technology, but not something that would be too distracting for the audience. The legend, Thelma Schoonmaker precisely edits this film, which negates the possibility of this 209-minute runtime feeling too elongated.
The film’s length may be intimidating but should be experienced in one continuous viewing if possible. Its narrative and thematic elements have the greatest effect when done so. The Irishman takes its time to tell a rich and reflective story that could put an end to the mob genre forever and there would be no complaints. A labor of love put together by old friends, who all happen to be legends in cinema.