MOVIE: THE IRISHMAN
STARRING: ROBERT DENIRO; JOE PESCI; AL PACINO; HARVEY KEITEL
DIRECTED BY: MARTIN SCORSESE
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
After all of his films, Martin Scorsese has not made an assumption of what will happen when we die. There's no dream sequences. The Last Temptation of Christ never answers the question about if there is a heaven or a hell. Scorsese is a Catholic, a man of faith, but has always been conflicted about it, especially in a world this cold. In his newest film, The Irishman, from the novel by Charles Brandt, I Heard You Paint Houses, this might be the closest the Oscar winner has ever come to giving us an answer to that question. Yes, this is a reunion of cinema legends, with Scorsese working with buddies Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and Al Pacino, just for one more chance before his time is up, but it is best not to be distracted by all of that. The Irishman is about the vision of an auteur. Something must be in the stars for a movie with this plot, and a script (written by Steve Zaillian) that plays like a commentary for the career of Scorsese, it is just too perfect. Sure, he could play the hits, with mobsters getting killed, and The Irishman has plenty of that, but this is different than all the times before. Scorsese is taking his time, this is one last ride, and I couldn't help but sit back and be in awe of it all.
The plot is about the life of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro), his relationship with mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and his involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). With a run-time of three hours and thirty minutes (you read that right), one needs to be prepared for The Irishman. There is a purpose for the films length however, casting a wide net, starting at the beginning of it all, Sheeran goes from truck driver, to middle man, all after a chance meeting with Bufalino at a gas station. The “jobs” that Frank did involved ruffling feathers, threats, collecting money, and sometimes killing people. Frank was a man of the teamsters union, a family man, and a man that got the job done. Respected and protected by Bufalino. What does a life like that do to someone? The Irishman is a study on the cracks a man will develop on his knuckles, what friendship means to the masculine male, and how we're all going to die in the end. Even that might not cover all of it.
When it comes to cinematic style, Martin Scorsese's look is unmistakeable. Similar to Goodfellas, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman starts at the end and bounces back to the beginning. Characters talk directly to the camera, sometimes in voice over. Text will show up on the face of a character, letting us know exactly when that man would die and how. Tracking shots, needle drops of popular songs, and tense sequences that will cause you to inch up a bit more in your seat. It's all there, with editing done by the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker, cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, and injected hints of humor, some nervous and some gut busting. Like a shot of stiff whiskey, Martin Scorsese makes movies that have a bite. When The Irishman may seem like just another gangster film, slowly begins to turn into a story about what it means to be living or dying. Scorsese is searching for meaning in his legacy as a director, wondering what will be left when it's all over, the haunting approach to death, and the frightening process of being alone. When you think it's all about mobs or backroom deals, Scorsese pushes you back, and punches you in the chest, asking us to think about the things that truly matter in life.
Throughout the film and in Zailliain's script, Frank's life is a battle between good and evil, or evil and evil depending on your point of view. This mobster has a different way of living, the protection he had for himself was good, his fractured relationship with family, including his daughter Peggy Sheeran (Anna Paquin) who feared her father so much she couldn't even hug him. In his life there were two people protecting him from it all. Two people he called friends, Russell Bufalino and Jimmy Hoffa. The first half of The Irishman shows how he got there, the second half is Frank's rise with Hoffa. When in Hoffa's corner, it is a constant battle between Robert Kennedy or pushy mob higher ups. It test's Frank and Jimmy's friendship. Is it just too good to be true or is it just business? What better two actors to bring it all to life though. De Niro's work is consistent, the guy who was there with Scorsese from the beginning is also the guy in the end. This is surprisingly Pacino's first time working with Scorsese, but as usual, he brings the energy of a fired up teenager, where his performance as Hoffa is a perfect balance of a man pushing his boundaries of power too far.
After it is all said and done, The Irishman is the quintessential mobster epic. It could only be done by Scorsese. Only the director of such hits as Shutter Island, The Departed, Taxi Driver, and on, could get Joe Pesci back into a movie after a three decade absence. When you think this is a movie that fits into the gangster cliche's, he is actually making a movie that questions his place in heaven or hell. The Irishman is closer to Silence than it is to Casino, but it won't be the final say for Martin Scorsese. As for answering if he believes in heaven or hell? I think Scorsese is looking at nothing. A void that leaves us six-feet under ground. Still, no matter what you or I think, no matter where we go when we die, we are lucky to have lived in his time. I think the director has made another fantastic film. I bow down at the church of Scorsese.
Written by: Leo Brady