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The Irishman Review: Scorsese's Latest Captivating Crime Epic

The Irishman is another outstanding cinematic accomplishment from Scorsese, featuring a talented cast and crew firing on all cylinders.

The Irishman movie poster

The Irishman is another outstanding cinematic accomplishment from Scorsese, featuring a talented cast and crew firing on all cylinders.

Legendary director Martin Scorsese spent a long time developing crime epic The Irishman; talk of the director reuniting with his old muse Robert De Niro for the project was happening as far back as 2010. It was until a few years ago the film finally took real steps forward, but even then it wasn't an easy process. Paramount passed on The Irishman due to concerns over the rising production budget, so Scorsese and company turned to Netflix to realize their vision. Bolstered by last year's Oscar-winning success of Roma, Netflix is hoping the latest from Scorsese can be an awards contender, and it certainly is. The Irishman is another outstanding cinematic accomplishment from Scorsese, featuring a talented cast and crew firing on all cylinders.

De Niro stars in The Irishman as Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who recounts his experiences working for Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Through that connection, Frank eventually meets and befriends labor union head Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and the two become very close with each other over the years. But as tensions rise between the volatile Hoffa and the Bufalino crime family, Frank finds himself in a precarious situation that threatens to keep escalating until one side makes a move on the other.

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in The Irishman
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in The Irishman

Decades into his career, Scorsese remains at the top of his game as a master craftsman. The Irishman, featuring Rodrigo Preito's beautiful cinematography and Bob Shaw's immersive production design (among other aspects), demands to be seen on the big screen if viewers can find showings in their area. From its opening moments, viewers are sucked into its world and become a part of it, going along for the (long) ride as a willing passenger. And Scorsese's visual effects team deserves a tremendous amount of credit for handling the heavily-publicized digital de-aging of the veteran cast. Though the CGI does take a moment or two to get used to, the technology works very well and is never really distracting. The Irishman is a great illustration of how far this process has come, proving Scorsese had the right idea going in this direction.

Also rising up to the challenge is the amazing ensemble cast, headlined by the dynamic trio of De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino. In his first collaboration with Scorsese, Pacino is an absolute joy to watch as Hoffa, channeling his trademark flair and gusto to play a larger than life figure. Pesci, who's portrayed some of Scorsese's most violent hotheads, showcases a new side of his range as Bufalino, with a performance that's low-key and reserved. Even though the role doesn't give Pesci a chance to have outbursts a la Tommy DeVito, the actor is still able to make Russell an intimidating presence throughout. But De Niro is the glue that holds the whole picture together, carrying the marathon film and perfectly inhabiting the character of Frank. He's not just rehashing prior mobsters he's played; De Niro does a great job exploring Frank's layers, crafting a performance that's equal parts entertaining and heartbreaking. The rest of the cast is a revolving door of famous faces and character actors (including Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, and Jesse Plemons) who are all able to leave an impression even if they have minimal screen time.

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in The Irishman
Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in The Irishman

The Irishman clocks in at 209 minutes, and because of that there are going to be viewers who opt to pass on the considerable time investment. But the film makes the most of its protracted runtime, weaving between multiple story threads and subplots that are as developed and effective as they are because the audience sees so much of Frank's life. Scorsese and screenwriter Steve Zaillian are almost deconstructing the myth of the movie mobster, staging a striking and realistic portrayal of a life in crime - one that doesn't shy away from the serious consequences of that path. The approach is what differentiates The Irishman from Scorsese's other forays into the genre, helping it stand out and play as a contemplative and poignant tale (though there's still plenty of Scorsese's dark comedy). There's also a meta element to the movie, as it can feel Scorsese himself is commenting on his own legacy. That metaphor mercifully never hits the audience over the head, but it's there for those familiar with the man's filmography.

Dating back to the 1970s, Scorsese has always been an ambitious filmmaker, but there was a risk The Irishman would be the time where even his grasp exceeded his reach. Fortunately, The Irishman is another reminder that Scorsese remains one of the finest American directors; it's truly impressive that at 77 years old, he's still as passionate and enthusiastic about his work as he was when he made Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, continuing to find ways to captivate an audience. The Irishman is most definitely the home run Netflix was hoping for when they put up the big bucks, and odds are cinephiles will be seeing plenty of it come Oscar time.

Trailer

The Irishman is now playing in select U.S. theaters and streaming on Netflix. It runs 209 minutes and is rated R for pervasive language and strong violence.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5 (Must-See)
Key Release Dates
  • The Irishman (2019) release date: Nov 27, 2019
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