Movie Review: The Irishman (2019)

I’ve written on here before about being a Martin Scorsese fan. In recent years, Scorsese has moved away from the organized crime movies he became known for, and though I’ve enjoyed a lot of those movies, I’ll always have a soft spot for his iconic mob movies. Scorsese’s 2019 effort–The Irishman–generated a lot of buzz when it was being made. The buzz tended to be less about the movie itself and more about the process/circumstances surrounding the making of the movie. It marks Scorsese’s return to the organized crime genre, reunited him with two longtime collaborators (Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, the latter coming out of retirement), included his first collaboration with Al Pacino, employed de-aging effects to the cast, was released on Netflix, and clocked in at 3 hours, 30 minutes.

Much less attention was paid to the story the movie told, that of Frank Sheeran. A trucker who worked as a hit man for Pennsylvania mobster Russell Bufalino, he claimed to know the real story behind the 1970s disappearance of mob-connected union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

Could any movie live up to all this hype?

I went into The Irishman not really knowing what to expect. I’d read about the lengthy developmental process behind the movie, was curious to see Pesci’s return to acting and Scorsese’s reunion with De Niro and first work with Pacino, and was vaguely familiar with the focus of the movie, but that’s really all I had, other than a cryptic recommendation from my brother to watch the movie.

So, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie on its own merits. Scorsese chronicles the fall of characters so well–I’d argue that it is what he is best at, documenting how his characters bring about their own demise like something out of a Greek tragedy. And at its heart this movie is less about how Sheeran got drawn into the mob world and more about how he got stuck in the middle of a nasty feud between Hoffa and Bufalino, alienating himself from his own family in the process.

I’ve always enjoyed De Niro and Pacino in movies, though I do think both of them have also coasted on a somewhat hammy caricature of themselves for a long time. Not quite so in this movie. De Niro especially does a good job with showing how deeply uncomfortable and precarious his position is as someone who has a good relationship with both Hoffa and Bufalino. Pacino also does excellent work as the charismatic but volatile Hoffa, who overestimates his own clout. In fact, I thought Pacino was hilariously petty throughout the movie.

Pesci probably does the best work of his career. He is most known for roles in which he plays over-the-top psychos, but I think he’s always been his best in quieter roles. His Bufalino is undoubtedly the most dangerous character in the whole movie, but he’s so secure in his own position that, unlike the more flamboyant characters, he doesn’t have to be demonstrative about it.

I do think the movie runs a touch long–I probably could have done without the last 30 minutes or so–but it also remains fascinating enough that the runtime doesn’t feel as long as it actually is. In fact, other than the very final bit, I generally found the last half even more gripping than the first as Hoffa’s relationship with the mob sours and Sheeran finds himself trapped in the middle.

As for the much discussed de-aging effects, I didn’t find them quite as distracting as I thought they would be–in fact, I thought they were pretty high quality–but I also don’t think they were strictly necessary. All the de-aging effects in the world can’t disguise the fact that the leading actors were all in their 70s because of the way they move, which limits the realism of some of the more physical action scenes. Scorsese is a talented director who gets good performances out of all his actors, so I’m not sure that this route was a better decision than just casting younger actors for the older scenes or even just focusing the movie on the characters in their later years. Nevertheless, I didn’t spend the entire movie distracted by the special effects like I did with Cats. 🙂

I’ve seen a fair amount of debate about whether or not the movie, which is based on Sheeran’s book, is an accurate depiction of what ultimately happened to Hoffa. I’m inclined to think not. Sheeran’s accuracy as a source has long been questioned, though the movie largely takes him at his word.

However, that doesn’t make the movie any less entertaining, and I highly recommend The Irishman. Unlike some of his other more recent work, the movie feels very much like a quintessential Scorsese movie. Appropriately, there’s something almost elegiac about it.

Did you enjoy The Irishman? What’s your favorite Scorsese movie? What have you been watching lately? Tell us in the comments! As always, please feel free to check out our online catalog to read more about it and to place a hold.

Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

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