Netflix’s The Irishman is directed by Martin Scorsese, and stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. It’s as amazing as it sounds.
The 3.5-hour epic crime saga is indubitably among the favorites for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar, if not the absolute front-runner.
De Niro takes the lead as Frank Sheeran, who begins doing business with the Northeastern Pennsylvania-based Bufalino crime family, led by Russell Bufalino (Pesci). Through this association, Frank ultimately becomes the primary bodyguard for Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
Those are the basics of the film’s setup. Let’s dive into a deeper review of Scorsese’s latest that should garner plenty of awards season recognition.
Pacino is a powerhouse — though it takes a while to get to him
There’s no question one of the greatest American actors ever has something left in the tank. Pacino chews up the scenery as Hoffa, and when he finally arrives about 45 minutes into the movie, the wait is well worth it.
The Irishman, adapted from the 2004 narrative nonfiction work I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, had a lot of heavy lifting to do early on. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian had to set up Frank’s character, beginning at a nursing home and recounting his days as a hitman.
It’s a little slow to start. However, this is Scorsese we’re talking about. Most people know how long the movie is going in. The craftsmanship of every frame is so masterful that it’s engrossing enough to keep the momentum going.
Plus, Pesci and De Niro are becoming reacquainted onscreen, which is fantastic after the pair previously starred in Scorsese classics such as Goodfellas and Casino.
But as soon as Pacino is on, everything picks up. The story blossoms, the pace accelerates. It’s a slow burn, punctuated by a peerless realizing of Hoffa’s character. Tremendous as De Niro and Pesci are, Pacino steals the show.
It’s almost as if the long-awaited Scorsese-Pacino collaboration, which amazingly hadn’t happened before this project, paralleled Hoffa’s eventual entrance. There were more moments like this that will be explained later.
Did they actually pull off that de-aging technology?
In a word, YES! It’s incredible. There’s one moment where a younger Frank physically reprimands a grocery store clerk for shoving his baby daughter, and his fighting suggests he’s a little older than meets the eye.
But other than that, honestly, it has to be seen to be believed. It’s almost as if Pesci didn’t come out of acting retirement and shot this whole thing 20 years ago, only putting on makeup to look older later.
The same goes for Pacino, who’s just as animated and sharp as he’s ever been. It’s kind of hard to wrap the mind around, because he’s acting so much younger than he actually is. De Niro and Pesci do great in that regard as well.
Ray Romano plays Bill Bufalino, a lawyer who helps Frank out of a jam very early in the film. That’s the inciting incident for how Frank becomes involved in the crime family, though he does have a chance encounter with Russell before then.
Anyway, Romano isn’t seen as much throughout The Irishman, yet they had to age him up in later scenes as well. That wasn’t as hard, of course, but no less impressive.
Is the film long just for the sake of it?
After the first 30 minutes, you might think so. However, this is not the case. The running time is absolutely justified.
It is easy to see why big studios shied away from the ambitious project, though. The film’s length doesn’t allow for as many screens to play on in a wide theatrical release. Plus, who knew the technology could be pulled off this well? Then naturally there was a big budget of $159 million.
But Scorsese is an auteur. He may have generated controversy for his recent criticism of comic-book movies not being cinema, which he later explained in further detail.
Let’s be real: Scorsese is good enough to have any opinion he wants about all that. No need to apologize, sir! He also put his money where his mouth was on that, because The Irishman is pure cinema.
It’s a period piece with wonderful production and art design. The camerawork and point-of-view shots are all-time class as usual. There’s crime, politics and their complicated entanglements, not to mention the themes of loyalty, family and betrayal that all come into the classic gangster movie equation.
Again, Scorsese takes his time, but we allow it. That’s not to say he rests on his laurels. He’s still earning deserved admiration in this one, not only through reverence for his prior filmography.
What’s The Irishman trying to say?
It’s not even worth spoiling much about the movie, because there are incredible surprises that can’t be seen coming. After all, this is built around Hoffa; his death has always been mysterious, and the story this adaptation tells presents merely one compelling possibility as to what his fate was.
Overall, The Irishman is a thoughtful meditation on legacy, aging, mortality and quite a different take on the traditional films about criminal protagonists. There’s a sort of meta quality to it, too — from the main cast and director.
Scorsese explained some of what he wanted to explore with De Niro in particular:
Frank is trying to come to terms with what he’s done at the end, namely the people he’s killed. He outlives everyone except Hoffa’s family, and his way of life has left him estranged from his daughters.
The final shot of the movie is Frank asking for the door to be left open a just a little. It’s almost as if De Niro and Scorsese want people to know they’re still around and at the top of their game.
But it’s also an acknowledgement of the fear of being lonely in death — and what has all their life’s work meant? That’s what Frank is grappling with in the end, and whether the sacrifices he made were all worth it.
All of this is really a bold artistic statement by The Irishman‘s chief creative forces. The climax of the movie happens with about 30 minutes still remaining, yet as the resolution scenes wind down, it gives the audience time to breathe and reflect. We see more of Frank’s humanity, and the consequences of his actions, which include some prison time with Russell.
The Irishman review: Binge
- Streaming on Netflix
- Directed by Martin Scorsese
- Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
It’s almost impossible to summarize The Irishman in a super succinct way. The good news is, it’s streaming on Netflix — and it lives up to the hype. This will go down as one of Scorsese’s best films, and that’s saying something considering his body of work.
As for the Oscars: the achievement of penning this story in such a tight way should earn Zaillian a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. Scorsese is a shoo-in for a Best Director bid, though he’s won just once in eight previous tries.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has to be a favorite for his work, as does editor Thelma Schoonmaker for capturing the best of a decades-spanning story.
The Academy should recognize this film in the technical categories, too. Production design, art design and costume design all ought to be at least nominated.
Finally, in terms of the acting, De Niro did serious heavy lifting and he deserves a Best Actor spot. He likely faces too much competition from Joaquin Phoenix in Joker and Adam Driver in Marriage Story (another Netflix original), but Pacino is a legit contender for Best Supporting Actor.
Whatever happens in the individual categories, don’t be surprised if Netflix gets revenge for Roma‘s Best Picture snub. The Irishman has the goods to deliver that landmark Oscar achievement this time around.