Four men defined Hollywood cinema of the 1970s. Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese were the first generation of up and comers in the decade following the downfall of the studio system. The revolutionized Hollywood and remained relevant, even as they themselves became “the man”. Almost forty years later, they are now the titans of the film industry and in some cases, are still working regularly. While he’s been slowing down a bit of late, Scorsese drops his latest movie this month. Here’s what you need to know before turning in to the gangster epic: The Irishman.
The Irishman traces the life of mob “house painter” Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro). Yes! I mean house-painter… he paints houses with… brains! Okay, fine. Hit man. Anyway, Sheeran recounts his life through the middle of the twentieth century as he runs with the east coast mafia in all its forms, before finally getting involved with iconic Teamster union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino)… and we all should know what happened to him. Joe Pesci, Jesse Plemmons and Bobby Cannavale co-star in the film. Martin Scorsese directs from a script by Steven Zaillian.
At its roots, The Irishman is pure, unabashed Martin Scorsese in super-sized form. Perhaps it’s a good thing that after the film’s brief theatrical run, it jumps to Netflix (it does clock in at a giant three and a half hours). In terms of pacing, most of the movie flows very well, just hitting brief snags in the second and third acts. As such, streaming might be a great place for it… you can pause for bathroom breaks.
Scorsese remains faithful to his roots, casting Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and at some level Al Pacino… three performers who couldn’t be more at home in a period gangster picture like this. As an actor, Joe Pesci has been laying low of late, but his return to form in The Irishman is stunning. His take on Russell Buffalino is complex and ruthless showing the actor reaching a new level, even this late in his career. I would love to see Pesci receive some awards season love for the performance.
Meanwhile, The Irishman brings all the stylistic- and auturist- hallmarks of Martin Scorsese with the polish and experience of his now fifty year career. The narrative crafts a witty, almost winking tone, which seems to be a bit of a departure from some of Scorsese’s usually more dramatic fair.
It’s difficult to tell if this is the director injecting some humor into the subject matter, or could Scorsese’s bread-and-butter gangster formula have grown so well-trodden over forty years that it has become a source of parody? While this might sound like a negative, it really didn’t feel like a negative. Interestingly, it made the more than three hour movie feel light and entertaining.
Continuing on the “Scorsese doing Scorsese” path, this soundtrack??? Yes please! I make no secret of the fact that I’m a complete sucker for the music of the forties and fifties, and Scorsese loads the soundtrack with doo-wop, crooners and ballads to make the average eighty year old remember their childhood. The director integrates the music well, using it to not only establish the world of the movie, but also craft the look of the movie. Thank you, Marty. Never change.
Meanwhile, at its textual roots, The Irishman is a bittersweet meditation on aging… metaphors… I can be deep, you know. As the movie plays out on-screen, there seems to be an intimate understanding that time is passing by. Each of these actors, as well as Scorsese, seem to be acutely aware that they aren’t as young as they used to be. They are getting older. Time is passing by, and this is sadly apparent in the narrative. As the final credits role, the narrative sticks with you.
Ultimately, if The Irishman can be described in one way, it is Martin Scorsese overload. This movie is unabashed Scorsese and everything that implies. The legendary director is doing exactly what he wants, no ifs ands or buts about it. So, If you like the directors noted style, be sure to check out The Irishman.
The Irishman hits select theaters around the country this month, before its Netflix premiere on November 27th.