Directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the 2004 biographical book I Heard You Paint Houses by former homicide prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney Charles Brandt, The Irishman was released on Netflix this month. It chronicles the life of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), an alleged mafia hitman who confesses to a crime that he committed when working for the Bufalino crime family, headed by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Now older, the WWII veteran once again reflects on his most prolific hits and, in particular, considers his involvement with his good friend Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino)’s disappearance in 1975.
From the master of cinema that is Scorsese, The Irishman is everything that you expect: an epic gangster film that sees the director return to the world he knows best: a character-heavy true crime story and the kind of gangster tale that has defined his career.
The film includes many of his quality film-making attributes: lengthy narratives, powerful leading male characters, just as powerful female characters who say very little but who give just as big of an impact, gritty violence, and highly polished cinematography. It’s certainly a more slow-paced narrative, but it’s well structured with a crucial final half an hour that really pulls everything together.
Normally with a Scorsese film, the run-time doesn’t bother me because he always manages to compact so much into those hours that you rarely feel its longevity. With The Irishman, Scorsese again tells a life-long story, this time based on real-life events, and shows a very different side to the gangster lifestyle that we are used to seeing.
However, I did feel 209 minutes runtime this time around and I know that I would have loved it much more as a TV series, as it’s difficult to find so many spare minutes in the comfort of your home, unlike when you make time to go to the cinema and fully diverse yourself in the experience. But Scorsese doesn’t waste a minute of its length. There’s never a dip in story or development as every second feels relevant, but it’s definitely not as engaging as his other films, either.
Most of all, it’s great to see Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci in a film together, especially under the helm of such a talented director who De Niro and Pesci have worked with together three times before (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino). Even more so, it’s great to see De Niro return to such a quality role and also for Pesci to come out of his unofficial retirement especially to take on this role, which really wouldn’t have been the same without him.
The use of de-ageing effects look great, too. The characters certainly don’t look between 20 and 35 in certain flashback scenes, but the effects express the timespan well and never look out of place.
The Irishman is undeniably a quality film. For me, it’s not one of Scorsese’s best, but it’s amazing to see him return to the gangster genre and show us that he’s definitely still got it.