MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Crime Drama/ Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Kathrine Narducci, Welker White, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Paul Herman, Jake Hoffman, Steven Van Zandt, Paul Ben-Victor, Jeremy Luke, Aleksa Palladino, J. C. MacKenzie, Bo Dietl, Jim Norton/ Runtime: 209 minutes
I feel it should be said that the cold, hard fact that that legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s latest crime saga The Irishman, or I Hear You Paint Houses as it’s called on screen, exists in and out of itself really is a pure and simple testament to the power that modern movie making can often bring to the forefront of the entertainment industry. Indeed I say this because, in my opinion, I really do not feel like there has been a cinematic era in the past 50+ years in that a project which is a fantastic mixture of both seriously expanded storytelling as well as practically god-level visual effects such as this could really come together in the way that this does, and as such it is practically impossible to and not to be in some state of awe at the achievement in filmmaking that is presented to us with this film.
Indeed this is because, upon having watched the finished product, this really truly is a film that really needed every single second behind its 15 years in developmental hell, and yet while one could make the argument that it is a touch on the indulgent side, I mean this movie IS 209 minutes after all, I feel that the genius behind this film is how astonishingly captivating it is to watch from beginning to end. Thus when you combine that along with some of the most brilliant performances ever put to celluloid from some of the most talented actors in the business, The Irishman really winds upcoming a gangster epic that is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and subsequently also only a movie that only a directing and filmmaking titan like Martin Scorsese could wind up delivering us for our viewing pleasure.
The plot is as follows: The Irishman is a sweeping and episodic odyssey in which we as audience members get a chance to look back on almost the entire 20th century through the eyes of a man by the name of Frank Sheeran who we first meet as a lonely yet kinda crotchety and grumpy septuagenarian living by himself in a retirement home. It isn’t long, however before this man starts telling us, the audience one heck of a story; a story that, despite unfolding before our very eyes in a distinct non-linear fashion, traces his life from his time as a soldier in World War II all the way through his rise as a powerful union official and simultaneous member of the Buffalino crime family with particular regard to his time working alongside one of the most powerful men in America: a Mr. Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Yet as Frank attempts to navigate the waters of this immensely tumultuous and dangerous world, he will find his loyalty tested, his boundaries pushed, and his relationships strained, and soon he will have to make choices, for good and for ill, that will determine not only where his loyalties lie, but where he stands as a person as well…..
Now whether we are talking about Mean Streets, GoodFellas, Casino, or even The Departed, I feel it must be said that although Martin Scorsese has a firm foothold in regards to who exactly is the king of the gangster film genre, The Irishman is infinitely larger in scale than anything that this film icon has ever done before. Yet what makes this fact stunning is when this film proves to be just as utterly captivating at every moment as every single one of the previous films that I just listed. Yet while this certainly is a story that features more than a few shocking and violent moments that certainly grab you when it counts, this IS a Scorsese film after all, these are in no way, shape, form, or fashion what drive this truly epic crime saga forward. Instead Scorsese makes the bold and captivating choice of letting this narrative ultimately be driven not only by the endless intensity that the characters in the film possesses in aces, but also by the choices they are driven to make in the name of prosperity and survival, and it proves to be just another winning decision from a director who has already made so many.
Ultimately however, what truly makes The Irishman unique on a basic level however is how the movie enables the audience to really become a part of its epic world on an almost personal level. Indeed the fact that Scorsese was actually granted the chance to create a three-and-a-half hour experience also had the added benefit of actually managing to give him the freedom he needed in order to fully let us into the lives of the kinds of characters he knows so well yet in a way that we honestly have never seen before with the end result being that it just manages to heighten everything about the world, the characters, and just the storytelling on display period. Thus when we are forced to watch Frank find himself continuously being torn between his loyalties to the crime family that made him one of their own and to Jimmy Hoffa who really was one of his best friends, it is absolutely heart wrenching to sit through due to the time we have spent during this epic saga watching these relationships grow and blossom literally over decades.
Now the fact that Netflix actually allowed The Irishman to be brought to us audiences in the grand, epic, and quite expansive form that it’s in truthfully is only half the equation to why exactly the film is everything that it could have ever hoped to have been. Indeed it needs to be said, but the other half of the equation really truly has to be the remarkable application of this film’s truly stunning and groundbreaking visual effects. I say this because you have to understand dear reader, but in the past, the only way to pull off something as amazing as this movie gives us would have been to either hire three different actors to play these parts at different times, make use of crazy, elaborate make-up, or the proverbial all of the above. However, through the wonderfully convenient magic of de-aging technology, though, we now have results contained herein that are not only more consistent, but more convincing as well, and the results are nothing if not truly spectacular.
Now you might think that this film’s habit of non-linear storytelling would hurt the finished product in this regard since in no small part due to the fact that the movie quite often decides to use the particular age of the characters as a means towards pinpointing just when exactly a particular scene is supposed to take place which of course then that extra scrutiny on the part of the viewer. Yet I think this is ultimately further proof towards just how phenomenal it is that this system totally works. Indeed, and to be fair, the digital effects are a bit distracting at first, due to your brain having to get over the uncanny valley process of having to see Robert De Niro on screen looking at-least 40 years younger, but astonishingly the further along that you proceed into this film’s story, the more jaw-dropping it becomes when you see just how seamless these next-level effects truly are.
Of course, it should go without saying, but the visual effect wizardry that is on convincing display here just simply will not work if you are at any moment in time not convinced of the genuineness of the performances underneath them. Thankfully Scorsese is fully on top and aware of this, and as such has managed to balance this particular scale out by assembling what is easily one of if not the very best ensemble casts of his filmmaking career either as a producer or a director. This of course starts with film lead Robert De Niro who, despite it being over 25 years since his last actor-director collaboration with Scorsese, is truly back in the top form that defined De Niro’s career in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s here as with his role of Sheeran, De Niro manages to take the audience on what is easily an extremely emotional yet deeply complicated life story while all the while managing to convincingly disappear into the part at every single step of the way. Indeed between this and Joker’s billion-dollar success, I think it is safe to say that many actors have had a big year this year, but now it’s time we add De Niro to the list as well. Now De Niro is not the only acting legend that Scorsese has managed to nab for this masterpiece. Indeed I say that because as the bombastic and highly energetic Jimmy Hoffa, Al Pacino manages to deliver one of his best in a long while too. To be fair it is a co-starring role, but Pacino manages, thanks to being given free rein to go seriously big at every opportunity, to deliver another iconic performance to a filmography full of them. That and I just have to say that this is the movie that finally showcases the De Niro-Pacino team up to full and terrific effect. I say that because the contradiction between Pacino’s bombastic and lively energy and the stoicism of De Niro is really electrifying and manages to result in much of the movie’s best dramatic scenes. Yet I feel it must be said that, although the performances from both De Niro and Pacino are both legendary to the max, they are still slightly overshadowed by the work done by none other than Joe Pesci, and that is the because his performance is simply next level. Indeed it may be a supporting role, but it is nevertheless absolutely remarkable to see what the man is able to do by injecting not only nuance, but also heart and passion into the part. Indeed it really is a phenomenal, and tour de force performance that is done in a way that I feel that nobody other than Pesci really could do. Indeed it really feels like the main reason he has been 98% absent from the acting world for the past 20 years is because he has been waiting for a part that he can really make his own, and in the process give a performance for the ages. Suffice it to say that not only is this that role, but Pesci also manages to not only knock it out of the park, but gives us a performance that has the potential to be just as legendary as his role as Tommy from GoodFellas.
All in all The Irishman may have gotten a small theatrical window before it went permanently live on Netflix, but I’m disappointed they didn’t take the theatrical window and make it bigger. I say that with all confidence because that truly was the presentation that this epic film demands. Indeed this is because at home it’s significantly easier to hit the pause button for bathroom breaks, but because this is a film that is built to be an immersive world that you can’t help but feel like you are living in for 209 minutes, I feel that is an achievement that is best accomplished within a dark, but hopefully comfortable theater. Regardless of where you see it though know this: The Irishman may definitely be a lot of movie, but I promise you: this is easily one of the most extraordinary film-viewing experiences I have ever had, and when it is a film that is crafted with ever-stunning expertise by one of the greatest directors of all time, and populated with a cast for the ages then that truly is an offer you can’t refuse. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Irishman a 5 out of 5.