REVIEW: The Irishman - it wouldn’t be surprising to see the lead actors giving acceptance speeches come February.
PUBLISHED: 12:24 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:24 09 December 2019
Martin Scorsese returns to the genre he knows so well, reuniting with Robert De Niro for this American gangster epic telling the tale of real life mob hitman Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran.
Martin Scorsese returns to the genre he knows so well, reuniting with Robert De Niro for this American gangster epic telling the tale of real life mob hitman Frank 'The Irishman' Sheeran.
Adapted from the non-fiction novel I heard you paint houses by Charles Brandt, the film tells Sheeran's story, as the former American union official and hitman looks back on his life and the hits that defined his mob career.
Narrating from an old people's home, Sheeran details his links to the Bufalino crime family, and the part he claimed to play in the disappearance of his longtime friend Jimmy Hoffa, the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who mysteriously disappeared in July 1975 at the age of 62.
Scorsese assembles a dream cast of acting heavyweights including De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Stephen Graham, while Ray Romano, Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel also appear in supporting roles.
De Niro is excellent as Sheeran, who with the help of some impressive de-ageing effects, plays the emotionless hitman throughout the character's lifespan.
It's a testament to those visual effects that, one early scene aside, it is virtually unnoticeable and never distracting. Pacino is well suited to the role of Jimmy Hoffa, a part full of the big grandstanding speeches the actor revels in, while Joe Pesci delivers more subtlety in his nuanced turn as gangster Russell Bufalino, arguably the film's best performance.
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Despite the excellent acting, this is not peak Scorsese. The Irishman plays it very straight, lacking the razor sharp humour found in his previous mob flicks.
The film is dialogue heavy and low on action and the time-hopping narrative makes it difficult to settle into the story. While the slow pace makes you long for the energy of films like The Wolf of Wall Street.
Funded by Netflix which has a reputation for a hands-off approach, it's debatable whether Scorsese would have been given the freedom to deliver such a long film for any other studio (The Irishman clocks in at a mammoth three and a half hours)
That said, the film's emotionally charged final hour, culminating with a heartbreaking finale is absolutely outstanding with De Niro delivering some of his best work for many years. Whether it needed the two and half hours of set up to beforehand is a matter for debate.
Due to its Netflix backing, the film is available to watch via the streaming platform, but has also received a cinematic release making it eligible for awards. So it wouldn't be surprising to see the lead actors giving acceptance speeches come February.
If any filmmaker deserved Carte Blanche to make whatever film he wanted, then it's undoubtedly Scorsese, however The Irishman does feel a little too self indulgent.
A real mixed bag of astounding CGI and superb performances combined with meanderingly long and plodding narrative.