As he nears his eighties, it’s impressive to think about how Martin Scorsese manages to find new ways to push the possibilities of what the medium of film can accomplish even as he continues treading familiar subject matter. And after having remained in development hell for so many years, he releases The Irishman for Netflix, which resulted in possibly his most expensive film and longest film to date, but considering the sort of original content that Netflix has been known to fund over the years it’s almost incredible to think that they would let Scorsese make a film of this sort with a budget that almost matches up with a modern superhero film. As familiar as the subject matter would be to many Scorsese fans, those entering expecting another GoodFellas or Casino will find themselves in for a whole other ride entirely; this may be one of his best films in recent memory too.
We are introduced to Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in a retirement home, as he recalls stories from his past – as a WWII veteran, eventually becoming involved with the Bufalino crime family. Spanning decades into Sheeran’s life all the way up until his final days, The Irishman isn’t any ordinary crime story, for the ventures of Frank Sheeran go beyond the involvement of the Bufalino crime family, and stretch as far as a possible involvement with the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). With the running time already being so daunting, you’d already be wondering how much can Martin Scorsese manage to capture on the screen – yet there’s never a moment with a single minute feeling wasted.
Having worked again with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time since Casino, Martin Scorsese doesn’t come back to old sensibilities as he brings The Irishman to the screen but even under the incredible de-aging for De Niro and Pesci you find that he’s revisited old threads in order to tell a different sort of crime saga altogether. This is a crime story that shows you what life is like from the moment you find yourself caught within such a carefree state, ultimately leading oneself down a path full of resentment. For every moment that plays out in such a high octane manner, watching where all of it leads to is part of the journey that makes The Irishman one of Martin Scorsese’s most thoughtful films to date. For Scorsese it also feels like a period of reflecting upon the films that made him famous, as he wonders where else can he be set to take himself onward.
All across the board, the performances are as amazing as ever – Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, the latter of which I’m surprised has never worked with Martin Scorsese prior to now, are at the best they’ve been in a long time. Scorsese assembles a perfect ensemble for The Irishman, one where even the smaller parts still carry some sort of impact, whether they be Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, or Ray Romano. Yet there’s also a real standout in Joe Pesci, who has been brought back to the screen from his unofficial retirement, in a role that feels so uncharacteristic for Pesci given the sort of roles that he had been known to play for Martin Scorsese in the past. With Pesci having never played a leading part in so long, his return to the screen is ever so graceful in all the best ways and he brings out a sense of nuance that one would normally not associate such performances with.
Yet how does Martin Scorsese actually manage everything so wonderfully on such an impressive budget? Every moment of The Irishman only ever feels so rich, there’s not a single frame that feels wasted. Every character feels so beautifully fleshed out, it all works in the film’s favour for the purpose of transporting you through time. You’d wonder how Scorsese manages to fit in so many decades worth of a lifetime in the mafia in order to capture the way in which America had grown in those years under their influence, but he and screenwriter Steven Zaillian never leave out a single detail – aided by the always reliable Thelma Schoonmaker to keep it all so perfectly paced too. At a certain point you may start feeling the length as the film starts to quiet down, but even in these moments they have their own entertaining factors to perfectly balance the revisiting of American history through another look at the Jimmy Hoffa case.
For Martin Scorsese, it’s only fitting enough to describe a film like The Irishman as a heavy load. It’s a heavy load on the count that it’s not an ordinary story of the mafia being told but an entire lifestyle flashing right in front of you for three and a half hours. As Martin Scorsese finishes off the film, you’re left wondering what more could there possibly be in store for him, yet it also rings with a sense of optimism that signifies the best for the future. This is a new generation of Martin Scorsese that you’ll be made to witness in The Irishman, and you’re only set to look out for more. Although if it turns out that this were set to be Scorsese’s last mobster movie, it still carries a sort of power akin to that of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, where you’re looking back at what put you in the limelight, only wondering what more can be done onward.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Netflix.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by Steven Zaillian, from I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt
Produced by Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler, Gerald Chamales, Gastón Pavlovich, Randall Emmett, Gabriele Israilovici
Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba
Release Date: November 27, 2019 (Netflix)
Running Time: 209 minutes