The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019, USA)


               The Irishman finds Martin Scorsese in a somber mood. You wouldn’t get this from the marketing campaign of the film, which has been built on nostalgia for Scorsese’s greatest hits (notably Goodfellas and Casino). The film’s well-publicized 140-million-dollar budget was the result of extensive de-aging effects on the three main actors: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. Additionally, the film places Scorsese in the familiar mob milieu which put him on the map as a filmmaker. Yet The Irishman – despite bearing outward resemblance to Goodfellas – is not the same film.
               Instead, the film is a lugubrious, talky, and plodding meditation on the possibility of living life without regret. DeNiro’s Frank Sheehan is our literal and figurative narrator, spelling out the film’s events in retrospect from a nursing home. Frank’s initial induction into the mob is the closest we get to vintage Scorsese – the pop music montages and extended takes of Frank’s various missions are familiar territory. The film takes a turn with the introduction of Al Pacino, playing notorious Teamster union leader Jimmy Hoffa. As Frank becomes something of a bodyguard for Hoffa, DeNiro takes a backseat to Pacino’s tremendous performance.
               While there is enough Boomer history in The Irishman to fill an entire semester college lecture, Steve Zaillian’s script thankfully never loses sight of its emotional core – the triangle that emerges between Sheehan, Hoffa, and Pennsylvania mafioso Russell Bufalino. Joe Pesci – coming out of retirement – plays Bufalino with an incredible simultaneous calmness and menace. The emotional core of the script emerges when Sheehan’s demons come home to roost in a moving subplot with his daughter.
               The final act of The Irishman is perhaps the least flashy and most self-reflective of any movie Scorsese has done, and perhaps any mob movie. When DeNiro and Pacino are on screen together in the film’s final leg, whatever flaws the film has – some distracting elements of the de-aging effects, glacial pacing – are forgotten.


8/10

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