The Irishman is the story of Frank Sheeran who from the 1960s on was a middleman between the Italian mob and union leader Jimmy Hoffa. In that time he was an enforcer, a union chapter president, father, and bodyguard. The film stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino. It is directed by Martin Scorsese.
All my life I've waited to see a three hour plus movie that could hold my attention the entire time. That's a paraphrase of the first line from Goodfellas, but you get the idea. It's so rare to be excited for and enrapt by a long movie. Despite people's willingness to binge watch episodes of television for hours on end, to get someone to watch a continuous narrative for over three hours is like getting a kid to leave a toy store without anything in hand. Yet, I'm very glad I got to spend that time seeing The Irishman at a theater. At home I'd be utterly distracted and would have missed some of the subtleties in Scorsese's quiet epic.
Even after a five decade career, Martin Scorsese still has a few tricks up his sleeve. He's been no stranger to tracking shots with several brilliant moves throughout the years, but his work with Rodrigo Prieto, who has been with him for his last three features, Scorsese has some of the most dynamic shots of his career. Not to mention Thelma Schoonmaker the editor who has been with Scorsese since Who's That Knocking On My Door is just as perfect as ever.
I particularly love a sequence where a character is on her way out to her car. It's a wordless scene with only some voice over. We track her through the office, cut to the car just outside. Then we're with her in the car, shot from below as she has a realization after putting the key in the ignition. Smash cut to an earlier car bomb, smash cut back to her shaking hand on the keys and those tense seconds before she turns the ignition. It's one of many, many incredible sequences that is a perfect melding of technical prowess on all fronts.
That all starts with the script. Steve Zaillian has been a prestige screenwriter for decades, but never before have I liked a script he's done as much as this one. Every bit of dialogue, every mood and sense of setting is just wonderful. And it's funny. Genuinely funny and not in an "I'm laughing because I'm uncomfortable" way, but because of weird misunderstandings that don't escalate, but are talked through almost in a halting, but still beautifully produced way. Though, his most interesting touch is that of the presence of Frank's daughter, Peggy.
Early on in the film we see the beginnings of Frank's strained relationship with Peggy as he beats a shopkeeper who pushes Peggy. Throughout the film, Peggy stares at her father. She waits to see his reaction to news items. She's watching him, almost like a conscience, ever present and weighing on his mind. She isn't given much to do in the film even as her adult self is played by the criminally underutilized Anna Paquin, but she works as this specter of guilt hanging over Frank.
That guilt and every action plays across Robert De Niro's face so well. He's able to emote everything on this quiet man's mind before he says it. The CGI de-aging didn't do too bad for him either. De Niro is a spectacular counterpoint to Al Pacino's bombast as union boss Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino's able to reign in his worst instincts as an actor into an incredible level of brilliance that's reminiscent of his early career performances. Of course though, The Irishman's MVP is the astonishingly, menacingly, wonderfully reserved Joe Pesci. He exudes the power of his character with every movement and emotion. It's a fantastically lovely thing to watch an actor comeback after that long of a break and slip into a role so wholly and completely. Pesci remains one of the greats despite his spotty career.
Do I wish there were more women with more to do? Absolutely. Do I wish that there weren't times when the audience I was with found a bit of staggering violence uproarious? You bet I do. Yet, do I wish to dissuade you from watching The Irishman? Not in the slightest. Martin Scorsese is the kind of filmmaker who I can respect after he makes a comment about the most popular film franchise of all time because he can turn around and make a masterpiece like The Irishman. When The Irishman makes its way onto your Netflix feed on Nov. 27th do yourself a favor and watch it. Watch it in one sitting and with no distractions. It deserves your attention and with it's quiet, confident filmmaking it will get it.