“THE IRISHMAN” is the latest from Martin Scorsese coming soon to select theaters November 1st and worldwide to Netflix on the 24th. As you would expect from a Scorsese epic, the cast in this film is phenomenal with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci as the headliners. And Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, and Ray Romano filling out smaller roles. This story spans many decades and explores one of the great unsolved American mysteries. The disappearance of union boss Jimmy Hoffa. As well as the possibility of mob involvement, and the potential political connections that could have played a hand in Hoffa going missing in 1975. This story is told through the eyes of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. A high-ranking member of the Teamsters Union and a hit-man for the Bufalino crime family. A man that was a close friend of Jimmy Hoffa who before his own death in 2003, claimed to have been the one who killed Hoffa.
This movie has been my most anticipated of the year. I love crime-dramas centering on mob activity and I’m a lifelong fan of De Niro, Scorsese, Pacino, and Pesci so you could say this is pretty much my “Avengers: Endgame.” At three-and-a-half-hours I was not at all worried about run-time and after watching I will say Scorsese uses every minute to tell this story. It could’ve even been longer and still not lost its appeal because there are so many intertwining dynamics in this era to cover. It’s a 70’s style movie with an atmospheric tone that can lure the viewer in and with compelling characters played by world class actors, the result is my pick for the best film of the year thus far.
The film takes its time to develop the characters and the multiple layers of the story. The events covered span several decades with many moving pieces that each bring their own level of intrigue and appeal. The various subplots weave together nicely to create curiosity and a foreboding tension. Jimmy Hoffa was a charismatic figure in his era. I enjoyed how this plot-line built the foundations to his union dealings, his position with the Teamsters, and how that intertwined with the political world and organized crime. Hoffa had put himself in the sights of many powerful figures and when and how that would manifest itself was fascinating to see play out.
The script from Steven Zaillian doesn’t spoon feed the viewer exposition. It expects a certain level of historical knowledge yet it’s tightly informative when needed to keep the emotional connection locked in. This story is told from the perspective of Sheeran with a flashback approach that allows for effective narration from De Niro. Many times while watching a scene the commentary from De Niro would come in to add dramatic layering, and many times insight to what fueled the visuals being depicted on screen. The consistent timeline with De Niro recanting the events of the story also created a smooth flow from scene to scene as the time-periods would change that I enjoyed.
What was happening in the world around these characters was developed through conversations and that is where the phenomenal cast comes into play. This film thrives on the performances from De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino. The result is a string of amazing scenes that were compelling, nostalgic and constantly entertaining. Sitting back and watching these actors work off one another brought a smile to my face. The timing between them was flawless and to me there just felt like a subtle enjoyment between them that translated nicely onscreen.
Pacino was a charismatic Hoffa with a larger than life personality. Pesci was subtly intense as a higher-up in the Bufalino family. And De Niro in the lead was layered as a former soldier, turned mob hit-man and union leader. They brought their screen presence to the roles but were also able to disappear into them. Something you want when high-profile talent takes on the role of real-life figures. The story couldn’t possibly cover all the events that took place over this many years, but it manages to get the full spectrum of events in. There were gaps in the information but there was still a continuity to it. Admittedly reading up on the real events with add more depth to the backdrops of the time-periods.
The talking-point of this film is certainly going to be the de-aging of the cast. That aspect of the post-production is what ballooned the budget and caused the delays in its release. But the result was well worth it. The various ages of the characters depicted was impressive. There were long stretches where I forgot about it which speaks a great deal to what technology was able to pull off with this movie. There is an aged styling to the film already, one that gives it a strong time-period atmosphere. The color pallet is slightly subdued which allowed the de-aging to blend in with the surroundings nicely.
This movie takes you on a historical journey filled with friendship, loyalty, political intrigue, and mob violence. The characters are continually explored as are their relationships with one another and it all blends together into a great mob epic. The violence is very Scorsese-esque. It comes out of nowhere, hits with impact, but never feels forced. As you would expect from a Scorsese film of this genre it maintains a grounded, realistic vibe. Complemented with dialogue that is intentional and brimming with meaning.
It’s a climactic film but never theatrical. The sense-of-humor splashes in nicely through the personality of the characters and it doesn’t just tell a story, it creates an immersive setting with everyone bringing their A-game. Joe Pesci is an incredible talent. He’s only done a couple movies since the 90’s but seeing him back in a role of this type was nostalgic and showed me he still has what it takes to create an imposing mob figure. Pacino still has that energy that adds such a strong vibrant charisma to his role. And De Niro was every bit the lead this film needed with a performance I think is award worthy.
For what is set out to accomplish it succeeds. It could’ve been longer and still told more layers of this fascinating era in post-war American history. Yet it was compelling from the opening scene until the end with the screen title “I Heard You Paint Houses” closing it out. The direction was Scorsese was polished, it let the performers capture the mood and intensity. With a visual appeal that served as a complement to the story, not something that attempted to overshadowed it.