Sunday, December 1, 2019

[Review] The Irishman

Martin Scorsese. Robert De Niro. Joe Pesci. Al Pacino. What more do you need?

That’s what we get in The Irishman, a sprawling mob epic that proves to be more than just a “Been there, done that.”

De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver turned hitman (aka “house painter”) who gets involved with the likes of organized crime boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and powerful teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). The story profiles his complicated life of guns, predicaments, and haunts into a journey of old age.

While the iconic Goodfellas was an in-your-face, cocaine-fueled trash compactor of gangster life, The Irishman sits back in a rocking chair and reflects. It’s ruminative and remorseful. Solemn and grave. And even though it clocks in at a deliberate three-and-half hours, it feels immensely watchable. Scorsese, like the master he is, orchestrates the events with a keen eye, a pensive focus, and a grand touch. The plot spans several decades and uses de-aging technology on the actors, and it works pretty seamlessly. Steven Zaillian’s screenplay is superbly crafted with boiling conflict, great dialogue, and a cackleworthy sense of humor — especially in the film’s more traditional first half. The picture is lushly filmed and canvased with some killer shots, and I’m not talking about all the pulled triggers. 

It comes at no surprise that the performances are excellent. De Niro anchors the saga with striking stares and line deliveries of conviction. You won’t find a hot-headed Pesci here. Instead, he’s effectively quiet and meditative. If you weren’t aware of his character’s background, you might consider him as a grandfatherly figure. Pacino shines with range and dimension and a commanding screen presence, reminding us that he’s one of the greatest of all time. Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavalle (with a funny hairline), Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemmons, Harvey Keitel, and colorful rapper Action Bronson round out the top-notch supporting cast. There’s also a lot of “Hey there’s that guy!” moments. Plenty of alums from “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire” show up to pay their respects.

It might not fill bedroom walls with film posters or be as instantly memorable as some of Scorsese’s past efforts, but The Irishman is still a late career triumph for the legendary filmmaker, as well as an altered view of the American mob world that he’s become so renowned for exploring. Being a wiseguy takes a toll — that is — if you even make it that far. 

* 9/10 *

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