Goombas assemble as Netflix brings together the best of the best in cinema for the gangster epic “The Irishman”. Legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, directs a labyrinth of plots told through a very impressive cast of A-list actors, such as DeNiro, Pacino & Pesci. There is a lot to take in within the three hour and twenty minute running time, that requires patience from the viewer. While the computer generated de-aging isn’t distracting for the large amount that they use, the technology still cannot hide how an older body moves. While it’s not my favorite Scorsese film (for one big reason), it’s highly unlikely we will see this pairing ever again so you’s guys should give it a shot to witness this powerhouse talent which premieres on Netflix today (November 27th).
Since becoming one of Hollywood’s leading film studios. Streaming service Netflix has produced, financed and released some of the biggest and best films Hollywood has to offer, that studios couldn’t. No film this year is bigger or more anticipated for Netflix than “The Irishman”. Well goombas assemble, because here we have the best of the best in cinema coming together.
“The Irishman” is based from Charles Brandt’s non-fiction book named “I Heard You Paint Houses”. The term “I Heard You Paint Houses” is a term used for a paid killer, meaning: “To paint a house is to kill a man. The paint is the blood that splatters on the wall and floors”.
“The Irishman”, produced and directed by one of the most important American filmmakers in cinema, the legendary Martin Scorsese. The journey to getting “The Irishman” made wasn’t an easy one for Scorsese. After shopping it to studio after studio, including Paramount Pictures (who has been releasing his films for the past few years), no one wanted to finance the project.
“The Irishman” required most of it’s running time to use extensive de-aging technology used to transform Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and some other members of the cast into younger versions of themselves. Studios declined because it was said the budget for the film would just cost too much for the de-aging process. The only studio willing to front the budget of a whopping $150 million dollars and giving Scorsese free rein, was streaming service and now leading film studio Netflix. The only studio who would (or could) give him this type of budget leeway and final say to the films final cut.
“The Irishman” is a return to the genre that Scorsese knows best, but this isn’t the typical Scorsese gangster flick. Unlike “Mean Streets”, “GoodFellas” or “Casino”, where both the bullets and fists fly. While “The Irishman”, does have the typical gangster film kills, like headshots or death by tree trimmer. It’s the dialogue that is the bullets and punches, as sometimes it comes fast and sometimes comes unexpectedly. Scorsese films the conversations as if you never know how each meeting or conversation will end up.
There is a lot to take in within the three hour and twenty minute running time for “The Irishman”. While it manages to keep audiences engaged throughout and in parts more so than others. It’s a film that requires a lot of patience that will ultimately play better at home on the streaming service. Being on Netflix viewers will be able to pause for bathroom breaks or snack breaks, but unfortunately this also might lead to some subscribers giving up halfway through in finishing it due to the pacing. It is more in terms with his most recent three hour patience tester the far better and far superior “Silence”.
“The Irishman” feels deeper and more expansive than either “GoodFellas” or “Casino”, but that depth only goes so far. “The Irishman” didn’t need to be such a sprawling story. This is not “Once Upon a Time in America” (directed by Sergio Leone), even though Scorsese probably hoped it would be.
While “Casino”runs twenty minutes shorter, Scorsese still packed a lot into those three hours and moved things at a lot snappier pace. “The Irishman” tends to do a lot less in a lot more time. One of the talents of Scorsese is that he can always create something memorable, whether it’s one scene or ten scenes. But in “The Irishman” there is just nothing real memorable about it, other than the performances.
“The Irishman” is a labyrinth of plots told through a very large and very impressive cast of A-list actors. To describe DeNiro’s performance is easy…it’s his best work in years. De Niro is one I consider the second greatest actor of all time and he plays Frank Sheeran as a more reflective approach, in a subtle and beautifully moving performance. Except just don’t get in his way when he is hired to “paint houses”. When he goes to pop a guy, he goes for the gusto. “The Irishman” would mark the ninth collaboration between DeNiro and Scorsese.
Then there is Al Pacino, who has been my pick for greatest actor of all time. He is the best as they come. Pacino’s performance is too much of him doing his best Pacino impression, as he tries to portray Jimmy Hoffa. He doesn’t really get lost in the role as he did in the recent film “Paterno”, which could easily be considered one of his career best performances. I prefer Jack Nicholson’s magnificently lived-in performance in the much better Jimmy Hoffa film titled “Hoffa”, the 1992 biopic directed by Danny Devito. If you can believe it or not this is Pacino’s first film with Scorsese. How did this not happen sooner?!
It’s great seeing these two legends on screen together again after their last onscreen appearance together eleven years ago in the less than stellar “Righteous Kill”. Who can forget their first official onscreen appearance, that actually featured them in a scene together in the phenomenal Michael Mann epic “Heat”.
In his fourth collaboration with Scorsese after “Raging Bull” (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), “GoodFellas” (which he won Best Supporting Actor) and “Casino”. Joe Pesci has come out of retirement to star in his first film in nine years. Even though Scorsese himself had asked Pesci numerous times. Pesci declined constantly to where he obviously agreed to come out of retirement. We should all be so glad he did as he does stellar work. Here is Pesci in a less showy performance from his other Scorsese roles and gives the films best screen performance.
In outstanding supporting roles is: Ray Romano as DeNiro’s lawyer, Harvey Keitel and Stephen Graham in a scene stealing performance who has the best scene in the movie as he is both ten minutes late and comes in wearing shorts to a meeting with Hoffa, which unsurprisingly enough Hoffa does not approve of. “The Irishman” actually spends a lot of time on that aspect of Hoffa’s pet peeve of people being late to meetings. He even provokes people in one sequence whose support he needs in what seems to be an attempt to be “The Irishman’s” version of Pesci’s “How am I funny? from “GoodFellas”.
The film begins with Frank (DeNiro) dealing in stolen steaks, which is not exactly as exciting as Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill’s mob errands or gambling schemes in “GoodFellas”. Even when the crimes escalate to sabotaging taxis, delivering guns to Cuban nationals, or committing murder, the dragged pacing and stuffed story makes it all less compelling. Frank eventually gets involved with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), so all his crimes pertain to the trucking union. Of course, it’s building up to the legendary mystery of Hoffa’s disappearance.
Henry Hill’s story in “GoodFellas” was about being seduced by a life of crime and believing you are above the law. In “Casino” it was about how volatile personalities can collapse even when it’s the best house of cards. “The Irishman” may also be inspired by true crime, as everything depicted is according to Frank Sheeran’s accounts, but it’s ultimately a little more than a history lesson. Frank did commit crimes, Hoffa did disappear and “The Irishman” may or may not be a valid theory as to what happened. Although it’s not all about Hoffa as it’s also about how the violent lifestyle that costed Frank his family.
One of Scorsese’s recurring motifs throughout is how every time a gangster is introduced, they reveal their ultimate fate, which involve either a gruesome death or prison term. In another departure, Scorsese emphasizes Robbie Robertson’s score over period tunes including repeated, haunting use of The Five Satin’s “In the Still of the Night”. There are more than a few notable exceptions, where a lot of scenes feature no music and no ambient sound, making the scene sit still in silence.
The much talked about computer generated de-aging isn’t distracting all of the time, with a few exceptions of it feeling off, but overall Scorsese’s team blends the visual effects with the natural that doesn’t feel like a gimmick. The downfall of the whole de-aging technology lies within the actors who cannot hide how an older body moves. I thought De Niro and Pacino still carried themselves like the 70-year olds they are, while the visual effects made them look younger.
Scorsese’s wide shots are beautiful and really transport the viewer to a time period that spans over forty years. Scorsese and screenwriter Steve Zaillian bring a mobster character study to provide commentary on the intersection of politics, unions, and organized crime from the 1950s to 1970s.
Since 1973’s “Mean Streets,” Scorsese has proven over and over to be a master filmmaker, especially of the gangster film. Scorsese makes films about what he knows best: Americana and performances of masculinity.
I’m happy that “The Irishman” is being considered by so many to be a guaranteed brilliance, with much hype and positive reviews. I root and wish Scorsese the biggest success he can get with each film, but “The Irishman” just wasn’t for me. While it’s not my favorite Scorsese film, it’s certainly got a lot going for it: the masterclass in acting (no surprise there), sharp screenplay and the classic direction by one of cinemas greatest living filmmakers. I only wish it had a bit more kick in it’s step as it’s the definition of slow burn. So much so that even Netflix categorized it as a slow burn.
Scorsese will probably tell you it was meant for the big screen (which it really isn’t), although the intent for theater release is surely to qualify for the Oscars. It’s not the theatrical experience nor is it a modern masterpiece as Netflix’s greatest achievement that “Roma” was. But hey it’s Scorsese, DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci and it’s highly unlikely we will see this pairing ever again so you’s guys should give it a shot anyway, to witness this powerhouse talent when it premieres on Netflix November 27th.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)