5 reasons The Irishman is everything you wanted from Scorsese, De Niro & Pacino coming together
Scorsese takes a self-reflective look at his work in the genre and what has shaped up to be his legacy. The film, in many ways, is a lot like Goodfellas, but with a gloomier note. It's like Scorsese looking back at those fellas from today, and he realising the futility of all the fighting, cussing and stylised murders.
"It's what it is,'' says Joe Pesci's Russell Bufalino to De Niro's Frank Sheeran in one of the most moving scenes of the Martin Scorsese epic, The Irishman. To some extent that phrase bears the crux of the film. It's a film that's in no hurry. It's a portrait that commands your attention for almost 3 and a half hours and takes you on a journey through Hollywood's hallowed gangster milieu. The Irishman feels like confessional lookback from Scorsese into his career and filmography. It feels like a deeply personal quest, a question Scorsese is sharing with the audience.
It's a three-and-a-half hours movie, but not for a moment do you feel that the film is stuck or slow. In fact the film is so kinetic that its two-linear-narratives-merging-into-one never feels like an obstacle to the story. At the same time when the film is over, you get a feeling that Devendra Fadnavis was the CM of Maharashtra for a shorter period, except you don't regret this one happening.
When the three galacticos of gangster films- Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (four, if you count Harvey Keitel's glorious cameo) come together, it's sheer fireworks; you can't expect anything else. And unlike most expectations in life, this one is met.
This deeply reflective epic mob procedural doesn't deserve a listicle to say the least. But well, the audience wants, as Marty puts it, "the same thing over and over again". So, here we go:
1. The casting coup
When asked about why he hadn't worked with Al Pacino until The Irishman, Martin Scorsese chuckled and said that they were supposed to work together in the 70s, "then Al got busy and he started working a lot with Brian De Palma". This light-hearted answer probably holds the key to the time and the great gangster milieu both of those legends were parts of.
Scorsese, Pacino, De Niro, Pesci, Keitels represent a time of Americal films which gave rise a fresh grammar of filmmaking. And this film feels unreal with these galacticos coming together for perhaps one final time.
Yes, I say word final responsibly, because there is finality written all over the film from the very first continuous shot, which is punctured by De Niro' Sheeran taking matters into his hands and taking us through the journey of him painting houses (a euphemism for painting someone's walls with blood, also known as ‘taking care’).
As critic Rahul Desai puts it, "for years, we’ve seen the De Niros and Pacinos and Pescis and Keitels strut around, shoot, dominate and solidify the Scorsese universe of macho mobsters. Here, the flashbacks play like a nostalgic highlight reel of those movies – episodically, coldly, comfortably."
Scorsese's long-gestating gangland epic feels every bit of worth the time, when you see the living legends do their thing. As The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw puts it, "a superstar repertory of players giving him (and us) performances of wintry brilliance, ebullience and regret".
Robert De Niro plays a stolid, unemotional Frank, the second world war veteran whose military experience desensitised him to killing and taught him male codes of honour. While a bombastic Al Pacino breathes life & huff in the legendary leader of Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa. When both are on screen together it's a feeling that you can't explain. Especially when they get into their pyjamas together before going to bed like a poignant old married couple.
Then there's Pesci, one of the most misunderstood actors in Hollywood. Many, over the years have lamented how Hollywood has wasted him by putting him in broad comedies. In The Irishman he shows why they lament. Playing a quietly spoken grandfather figure & a classy mobster, he nearly steals all the scenes he is in. And remember this film has actors like De Niro and Pacino. It's a revelation, it's a masterclass, it's a marvel.
A marvel when Scorsese comes together with these actors. It's like Scorsese's Avengers: Endgame (don't @ me), except it does "convey emotional, psychological experiences to a human being".
2. Martin Scorsese
As I mentioned earlier, it is a deeply personal film and there was no one else who could do this except the original gangsta of gangster film, Martin Scorsese. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post thinks that "for Scorsese fans eager to savor the director’s most personal themes and signature cinematic gestures, “The Irishman” is a feast for the ages, a groaning board of exquisitely photographed scenes, iconic performances and tender nods toward old age that leave viewers in a mood more wistful than keyed-up".
While Rahul Desai thinks that in this profound tale of violence, betrayal, dishonesty and emotional bankruptcy, Scorsese is its central character. Using the much-talked about de-aging technology, Scorsese almost hovers across all his filmography and all the other crime films that define the genre.
He takes this self-reflective look at his work in the genre and what has shaped up to be his legacy. The film, in many ways, is a lot like Goodfellas, but with a gloomier note. It's like Scorsese looking back at those fellas from today, and he realising that futility of all the fighting, cussing and stylised murders. The gangsters in The Irishman don't seem to be having as good a time as the Goodfellas were. All his trusted lieutenants also explore this approaching finality & self-reflection with their introspective bests. The film begins and almost ends in a dull old-age home, where the former mobster Frank Sheeran is just sitting quietly. Suddenly, Scorsese’s obsession with the mafia, male codes of honor and disgrace "feels tragic and heroic and…vaguely irrelevant".
This film had been doing the rounds of Hollywood for very many years. Despite Scorsese teaming up with Pacino, De Niro & Pesci, no studio was ready to shell out $159 million, with a lot of it to fund the expensive de-ageing technology.
Then came Netflix, the streaming giant often criticised for not having movies of calibre; and thus began one of the most unusual collaboration between an auteur who stands for the silver-screen experience and a streaming service which encourages audience to watch films on their smartphones.
Well, if not anything, at least a huge population across the globe, for the first time, is feeling the craze of Scorsese flick right after it's release. A Netflix release means that Scorsese is no longer restricted to academic circles or pirated copies, the entire world can watch this epic at the same time in their bedrooms. A new experience I can't complain about.
4. The visual language
There are a lot of scenes in this film, with most of them having men of mafia-honour sitting and talking. These euphemistic encounters in a subdued restaurant light periodically explode into violence or dreamlike scenes of choreographed catastrophe, punctuated by gunshots or visceral jukebox slams on the soundtrack.
This audio-visual experience is exquisite. It's a breathtaking approach to shoot and edit an introspective and sometimes meditative film. With this straight-forward & kinetic approach, Scorecese & editor Thelma Schoonmaker dismantles the myth of Martin Scorsese, while building another layer on it. It's simply exquisite.
5. The history
"Back then there was nobody in this country who didn't know who Jimmy Hoffa was,'' says Sheeran before a magnetic Pacino joins the party in the film. Pacino plays this widely popular union leader, whose apparent disappearance still hasn't officially been solved.
Following the recent trend of auteurs taking up historically relevant true crime stroies (Quentin Tarantion in One Upon A Time in Holllywood and David Fincher in Mindhunter), Scorsese builds his epic around Hoffa and his links to the mafia, who are popularly believed to be behind his 'disappearance'.
The screenplay has been adapted from the 2004 true-crime bestseller ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ by Charles Brandt which sensationally established the importance of Sheeran to Hoffa and had the real-life Sheeran claim that he was the one put two bullets into Hoffa. So even if you are not taken in by the above point, the allure of true crime and an unsolved murder is more than enough to keep you on tenterhooks.
(Jimmy Hoffa | Source: Getty Images)