Martin Scorsese will go down as one of the greats: no doubt about it.
Although everyone still talks about old dogs like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, a few of his recent string of hits deserve to be in the same conversation; like the underrated Silence and the subtly hilarious funny Wolf of Wall Street. All along Marty proved himself as a regular king of comedy, a one-two punch that comes in handy with his newest gangster film The Irishman.
The Irishman can be tough to follow at first. Told with a flurry of in media res from the perspective of an elderly Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (played by a spirited Robert De Niro), our protagonist recalls the day he became involved with the mob following his gig as a delivery truck driver. It’s a common theme from Scorsese, allowing him to break the rules a bit with some fourth wall chicanery (again, that comedy angle seeping in) coupled with a bit of classic unreliable narrator. True to form, Marty’s new opus is a slow burn. How slow? Well a lot happens in-between an array of captivating performances, but it’s about a three hour burn until it gets to its riveting 30 minute final act. Yes you read that right: The Irishman is three and a half hours, but it sure doesn’t feel like that most of the time.
We’re given a very detailed account of Sheeran’s criminal activity, bouncing from mob boss to the mob-adjacent and teamster Jimmy Hoffa. Themes of loyalty and brotherhood are thrown around and frequently felt, which can get lost in the absolute sea of cast members. It’s a thrill to see Joe Pesci, a consummate professional, on-screen again to deliver one of the most powerful understated performances, even if he isn’t the focus. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are magnificent, giving us subtle reactions and emotional outbursts on a dime. That’s kind of what the duo is known for, especially when on-screen together, but not so much recently.
Scorsese also has a new generation of mob actors to draw from, including some Boardwalk Empire alums like Stephen Graham, Jack Huston and Bobby Canavale. Given the old meets new feel of it all, this is like the who’s who: the ultimate $160 million dollar budget mob epic fit for 2019. It’s important to keep in mind that given the aforementioned in media res aspect, Sheeran is recounting events from decades prior, which necessitates (in this case) de-aging CGI, employed most notably by the Marvel film series. The thing is, with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance in Captain Marvel (helped by the fact that the man doesn’t really age in general), most of that tech was only applied in spurts. With The Irishman, we’re basically seeing three hours plus of it, and it can take you out of the film at times. Why Scorsese didn’t use body doubles for very young scenes, I don’t know. That principle applies to the big three (De Niro, Pacino, Pesci), as everyone else exists in that ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s vacuum.
Despite the somewhat indulgent length and cast bloat, The Irishman will go down as a timeless character study classic from Scorsese. It lacks the pointedness of something like Goodfellas or Casino, but manages to give us pretty much everything we’d want out of a modern take on that formula.