Martin Scorsese has been a major topic of discussion on the internet over the last few months. This largely stems from the polarizing response given to his statements about the superhero genre or Marvel movies, referring to them as “theme park rides” and not “real cinema”. If 2019 is seen as a significant year for the often-heralded director, I hope he’ll be remembered for his three-and-a-half-hour artistic contribution and not an outlier opinion. I enjoy both Marvel movies and the superhero genre altogether. Marvel’s recent Spider-Man: Far From Home film even received high-marks in a review here on Mashers Club. This means it should be no surprise when I tell you I disagree with Scorsese’s comments and do, in-fact, respect the genre as an artform. Cinema is cinema, and while I do believe there’s bad superhero films, the same way I believe there’s bad crime-dramas and bad psychological-thrillers, there’re others I believe truly exceed. I believe it comes down to an argument of semantics with Scorsese, in that, what he believes is cinema doesn’t necessarily adhere to the textbook definition. I respect his opinion, I disagree with his opinion, and now, I’ll continue enjoying Scorsese’s robust talent.
Martin Scorsese is of a high-breed as far as movie-directors are concerned. I haven’t reviewed a single film from Martin’s filmography on Mashers Club yet (til now), but I can profess the absolute love I have for The Departed and The Aviator (I haven’t watched Taxi Driver or Goodfellas yet, but I’ll buy a copy on Blu-Ray of each as soon as I can). Something special about Scorsese is how he hasn’t regressed or lost his way as his career has progressed. In 2011, he directed a very unique adventure-drama with Hugo (an admitted commercial failure) and followed it with the hilarious and entertaining Wolf of Wall Street (a major success both critically and at the box office).
The Irishman sees Martin Scorsese aligning with the Netflix streaming service to churn out his most expensive film-to-date (a whopping $159 million for production) and his longest film, as well (209 minutes). The epic crime film was written by Steven Zaillian and was based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. The film has a star-studded cast comprised of names like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, as well as a supporting cast that includes Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel.
As you might surmise from a 3-and-a-half film, The Irishman comes with a lot to talk about. The film is about this guy named Frank Sheeran, that’s De Niro’s character, who’s a truck-driver turned hitman involved with mobster Russell Bufalino, played by George Carlin’s savior Joe Pesci. Frank’s character is a tangled web and, in my opinion, the most intriguing aspect about the film altogether. The character is rough-around-the-edges to say the least, but, throughout the whole film, I had the illusion of humanity and sincerity in him. As the film progresses, however, you begin to see the nothingness inside of him. The film follows him throughout the decades, which includes his relationship with the powerful Teamster (a large labor union) named Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino.
The Irishman is a long film. I don’t think anyone will argue with that sentiment. If I had watched the film in an actual theater, I might even argue the film is too long as well. (That’s not a movie, that’s a miniseries in denial!) The fact I was able to watch it on Netflix, sitting in my comfy couch, free to take a break at any moment helped negate that, however. The way the film’s paced also makes it very easy to step away from and come back to. I felt that, at least, the first two-and-a-half hours or so, doesn’t have a lot of forward momentum. You’re introduced to your characters and their world, their dynamic, and you watch a story unfold in-front of you, but it doesn’t have a true central conflict or captivation.
If The Departed is a theme-park ride, then, it feels like a major chunk of The Irishman is the lazy river ride (and yes, I made that analogy on purpose). It’s entertaining, make no mistake, but it’s casual. Al Pacino’s character of Jimmy Hoffa is fueled by self-worth and pride and is often hilarious. He isn’t hilarious in a silly-dancing Leonardo DiCaprio way, but, rather, like my Grandpa yelling at a store’s cashier about flip-flops. The cinematography and small nuisances are minimalist, but effective, like when a character is introduced, and text shows up to tell you they died from a gunshot to the head or they disappeared off the Earth.
If we’re honest – I think at least half an hour could have been shaved off The Irishman and it would have been an improvement to it as a feature film. Martin Scorsese is a master of the craft, but he likes to beat-around-the-bush and even be frivolous at certain times. Regardless, and I’ll bring it back to the merits of the home-video platform, I think it allows the story the chance to breathe in an organic fashion. Personally, I found that the three-and-a-half-hours didn’t, in-fact, feel like three-and-a-half-hours.
The special-effects and CGI involved in The Irishman’s creation might be off-putting on occasion, especially when it’s depicting our main-character Frank Sheeran through the years. I never found it to be egregious, but I will admit it does take some getting used to at first.
The most interesting thing about The Irishman, in my opinion, is Frank’s character, which I touched on earlier. It isn’t necessarily that Robert De Niro is the standout performance in the film. I mean, he’s very good, however, I think the same can be said for Al Pacino, and, on a smaller-level, Joe Pesci. It’s the way the film takes the piss out of everything he does. Gangster films can often glamourize crime and those involved with it. I’m not really complaining, because it’s good entertainment, but I think this film is more thoughtful on what happens on the inside of that person. Whether it be from his time serving in the war, or his eventual involvement as a mafia hitman, it shows Frank’s developing callousness, of how his insides are being mined out of him, and making for a very empty Ziplock bag, masquerading among us as human.
I feel I enjoyed The Irishman more after I watched it than while I watched it. Once everything had the chance to marinate, I began to fully appreciate certain things about it. The Irishman is a profound, insightful perspective on its characters and their plights, bolstered by strong performances all-around. I’d highly recommend it.