For the majority of his career, Martin Scorsese has been recognized as a true visionary. From Mean Streets to Raging Bull, Goodfellas to The Departed, his films have been hailed as masterpieces, weaving their way into the tapestry of American pop culture. But, for every Cape Fear or The Wolf of Wall Street, there has been forgettable film fodder such as Kundun or The Age of Innocence.
Ok, maybe the ratio isn’t that extreme. Scorsese has definitely produced much more good than bad. His newest feature, the highly anticipated The Irishman, comes to Netflix (after a very limited theatrical run) on November 27th. Will it be more Taxi Driver, or will it come and go like his most recent film Silence?
10 Masterpiece: Cast
Scorsese has always been known for his impressive casts. Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybil Shepherd, and Harvey Keitel starred together in Taxi Driver and his Best Picture winner, The Departed, featured Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Alec Baldwin. Shockingly, The Irishman may actually be his greatest cast yet.
The Netflix drama stars frequent Scorsese collaborator and multiple Academy Award winner De Niro alongside fellow Oscar winner Al Pacino, nominee Keitel, and Best Supporting Actor winners Anna Paquin and returning Scorsese favorite Joe Pesci. And that’s just scratching the surface!
9 Not A Masterpiece: Netflix Release
Despite a track record of several well-made, big-budgeted original films on their resume, the streaming giant has not had many break out in the same way that successful theatrical films have done. They’ve had some blockbuster-type movies with A-list stars, such as Bright and Triple Frontier, the buzzed-about Breaking Bad sequel film El Camino, and Oscar-nominated fare with last year’s Roma.
Yet, with the exception of the Sandra Bullock vehicle Bird Box, almost all of Netflix’s original movies are quickly forgotten. Rightly or wrongly, Scorsese’s The Irishman may very well suffer from this same perceived lack of prestige and a smaller audience.
8 Masterpiece: Epic Length
A film doesn’t necessarily have to have a grand running time to be considered a masterpiece, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Cinematic classics The Godfather 1 and 2 and Gone with the Wind all have runtimes at or over three hours. Scorsese himself is no stranger to lengthy runtimes himself, with eight of his films at or over two and a half hours.
With The Irishman, Scorsese tops all of his previous films, with an epic runtime of a whopping three and a half hours! This length will surely give the outspoken auteur the type of canvas he needs to paint a new American masterpiece.
7 Not A Masterpiece: De-Aging Technology
Much has been said about the extensive use of de-aging technology in The Irishman, almost to the point that it has dominated the conversation about the sweeping mob epic. Previous films such as Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and the Will Smith sci-fi actioner Gemini Man have employed the nouveau CGI technique with great success. The Irishman, however, relies heavily on being able to de-age its actors, as the story takes place over several decades. If the technology doesn’t quite deliver or becomes too much of a distraction, the film could suffer greatly for it.
6 Masterpiece: A New Scorsese Mafia Movie
Martin Scorsese has directed some great movies outside of the mob genre, such as The Aviator, Taxi Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The King of Comedy. He has even ventured effectively into children’s movies, with 2011’s Hugo.
However, it has been his films set in the wild world of the mafia that has resonated most loudly with the public. Casino, The Departed (for which Scorsese won Best Director and Best Picture), and Goodfellas (for which he was criminally denied both those awards) are generally regarded as three of Scorsese’s best films. With The Irishman, Scorsese returns to the sandbox that brought him his greatest cinematic successes.
5 Not A Masterpiece: Yet Another Scorsese Mafia Movie
As a flip side to the previous point, it can be argued that perhaps Scorsese has mined this particular field of films once too often. Has the gangster film passed the prolific producer-director by? Have audiences grown weary and tired of mob movies, especially those by the man who (along with Francis Ford Coppola) defined the genre?
Although The Departed won an Academy Award for Best Picture (and earned Scorsese his one and only Best Director Oscar), that film was released 13 years ago. The Irishman may end up feeling like too much of a rehash to enter into the cinema’s upper echelon.
4 Masterpiece: Based On An Acclaimed Novel
The Irishman has had quite the journey from page to screen. Robert De Niro, who plays the titular "Irishman," recommended Charles Brandt's 2004 mob opus I Heard You Paint Houses to Scorsese as a possible ninth collaboration between the two (and their first since 1995's Casino). The book detailed the life story of Frank Sheeran, a hired gun for the Bufalino crime family, and his alleged ties to the murder of Teamster's frontman Jimmy Hoffa (played in the film by Al Pacino).
The epic tale began development in 2007, but it was plagued by numerous starts and stops to production. In fact, it wasn’t until Netflix came on board in 2017 that the project finally got off the ground, with a massive production budget of $159 million.
3 Not A Masterpiece: Marvel Feud
Maybe "feud" is a bit harsh. If you haven’t heard by now, Martin Scorsese came under fire by some for his remarks to Empire Magazine that he didn’t consider Marvel movies to be cinema, but were more akin to theme park rides. He has since clarified his stance in an essay he wrote for The New York Times. In it, Scorsese wrote, “Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not is a revelation, mystery, or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk.” Despite his clarification, it’s entirely possible that the ill will generated by his initial remarks may sour the viewing public on The Irishman.
2 Masterpiece: Positive Reviews
Since its debut at the New York Film Festival in September, Scorsese’s mob epic has garnered near-universal positive reviews. The film currently sits at a 96% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes and a 94/100 score on Metacritic. Numerous filmmakers and actors, including frequent Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio, have hailed the film as a major triumph. In addition to Scorsese’s directing, the performances of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci have also received high praise. All of this certainly bodes well for the long-term legacy of The Irishman.
1 Not A Masterpiece: Timing
The Irishman will be released on Netflix on Wednesday, November 27th. With this being the day before Thanksgiving, will the turkey holiday, combined with many people traveling and Black Friday sales, have an adverse effect on the film? Let’s not forget that the sequel to Disney’s 2013 megahit Frozen lands in theaters six days before The Irishman is released. If the film gets lost in the shuffle of all the holiday activity, it is possible that it may fail to generate the audience and momentum needed to become a true cinematic classic.