Rob’s Spoiler Free Review of Netflix’s The Irishman
At the beginning of November Netflix released Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" on their streaming service after a short release in theaters to make the movie eligible for Oscar consideration. Since then everyone that's seen the film has a strong opinion about it, including me.
If you're expecting another film like Scorsese's "Goodfellas" or "Casino" you're going to be disappointed. "The Irishman" is neither of these films. If you're looking for Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci to play characters similarly to their characters in either of those films you're going to be disappointed. If you're looking for a story that moves as quickly as either of these two films you're going to be disappointed.
Scorsese takes his time telling the story of The Irishman, Frank Sheeran, and how he winds up being organized crime's man looking after their interests when it comes to Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters. Sheeran is played by De Niro, Hoffa is played by Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, the man in the mob whose brings Frank into the world of organized crime.
Scorsese's organized crime films have always had underlying themes of family, belonging, loyalty and how being a player in organized crime effects those dynamics. In fact, those themes are intertwined more in "Goodfellas" and "Casino" than they first appear. In "Goodfellas" it's Henry Hill and Karen. It's the bond between Jimmy Conway, Tommy DeVito and Henry Hill. In "Casino" it's "Ace" Rothstein's desire to be a family with Ginger McKenna and how Ginger's ex Lester Diamond and her betrayal of "Ace" with best friend Nicky Santoro impact their relationships and business. Yet, Scorsese doesn't let those dynamics interfere with the mob stories he's telling.
"The Irishman" puts family, belonging and loyalty, front and center. As the movie unfolds much of the story centers around a road trip taken by Sheeran, Bufalino and their wives as they head to a wedding. And the themes I mentioned before are evident throughout the film. Both between Sheeran and Bufalino. Sheeran and Hoffa. Sheeran and his daughters. Sheeran and Bufalinos' wives. And even Sheeran's daughters and Bufalino and Hoffa. Some of these short scenes seem unimportant to the story, but prove otherwise.
I think the performances by De Niro and especially Pesci are very compelling and Oscar worthy. Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci do a great job at making the characters of Sheeran and Bufalino very different from the mobsters they've played before. And for a film where the relationships are front and center it's the right tone.
Pacino turns in a good performance as Jimmy Hoffa too, but it's more of a performance you'd expect from Pacino. That doesn't mean it isn't the right performance. Hoffa's different than Bufalino and Sheeran, it's what drives him to be head of the Teamsters Brotherhood, and ultimately causes him problems. The relationships between Sheeran and both Bufalino and Hoffa are important to the film and are delightful to watch.
The technology Scorsese uses to anti-age the actors in the early parts of the film is amazing and not distracting. And at one point Scorsese masterfully puts together a series of scenes that is a text book example of holding an audience in suspense while bringing the film to it's climax.
The biggest complaint I've heard about the film comes after the climax. With a running time of about three and a half hours, some folks have been frustrated with the denouement. It's a fair criticism, especially for those less interested in the themes of family, belonging and loyalty and more interested in the mob story. Yet I suspect Martin Scorsese might say the ending ties together all the little things we've watched the Irishman experience. Perhaps Scorsese could have found a different way to tell this part of the story, and one could argue it's not necessary.
I think "The Irishman" is a must watch film for fans of De Niro, Pesci, Pacino and MartinScorsese. It's also think many who enjoyed "Goodfellas" and "Casino" will like it, if they go into watching it with the knowledge that while the film is just as compelling as both of those, it's a film that's very different than those.