Director: Martin Scorsese
Staring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin
Release Date: November 27, 2019
First thing first. This movie was not “too long.” That is not the case. Let’s get that out of the way.
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is a 209-minute crime drama centering around Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and his involvement with various notorious mob sort, most notably Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The story itself isn’t centered on the violence, deception or criminal aspects. Rather it is focused in the inner workings of the main characters and the personal ramifications of what it means to live the lifestyle they have chosen. That is what raises most Scorsese mob films, including The Irishman, above the mean.
After the relative quietness of Silence (2016) on the big screen, Scorsese really did make a splash with this beyond stacked cast. De Niro and Pacino back again sharing the screen, only to be joined the Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino and Harvey Keital as Angelo Bruno. Add in Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and a series of other recognizable faces.
Rather than touch on the entire story, because as well told as it is, the primary attention deserves to be put on the performances that Scorsese got out of his old and reliable crew.
Let’s start with the best. Mr. Joe Pesci.
There is no way anyway is failing to show appreciation for his performance as Russell Bufalino in The Irishman. From his first moments on the screen helping young Frank Sheeran with his car, to his final wheel-off moment into church; Pesci is fantastic. He doesn’t have the most screen time, but his presence is felt with a sudden profoundness whenever he is there. He doesn’t need to say a lot to convey important feelings and leanings.
For example, when Sheeran is brought in front of Angela Bruno and Bufalino at the restaurant just prior to blowing up the Jewish laundromat. He shares sly smiles and a “I know you messed up but it’s alright” way. Like a parent who is seeing their kid about to take a fall and learn the lesson and not climbing too high.
Then there is the closing of the movie, when he is letting Sheeran know the fate the Hoffa has committed himself to. “We did all we could for that man.” That line itself seals the fate for two of The Irishman’s main characters, Hoffa and Sheeran.
Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran ages in the movie like a fine wine. As his age grows throughout the tale, so does his performance. The last third of The Irishman is a staunch depressing look at a man wreaking the consequences of the life he chose. Many have said that the third act is the most cumbersome to watch, but in my reality, it’s the most tantalizing.
The phone call to Hoffa’s wife after he kills him is arguably the best acting in the entire movie. It’s a single still shot and Frank is battling through a myriad of emotions. He had killed his friend like any other job he had. Efficiently. But come Frank speaking on the phone, it’s all jagged. There is no plan, there is no calm temperament. Through uneasy speech and a mumbling of words, De Niro perfectly shows the confliction Sheeran had to deal with.
Now lets get to Anna Paquin. That’s right. You read right.
Paquin plays the older Peggy Sheeran, daughter to Frank. She says a total of one sentence. Seven words. And with that her efforts on the screen are incredibly pungent. Every single glare, stare and interaction with her father is heartbreaking because she is the only one who knows the truth of what he his. She is the only one who has seen around the façade, but she has not and can’t speak up knowing that it’ll create strife in the family and immediately put herself in harm. Marking it worse within the story is that Frank knows that Peggy knows. It’s an unspoken venomous bond that has no antidote.
To everyone who wrote think pieces saying Paquin was under-served. Just shut up. She said herself in an article from Vice, “a lot can be said without words.” Her performance is one the major highlights of The Irishman.
Now let’s address Al Pacino playing Mr. Jimmy Hoffa. Compared to the other powerhouses at play, Pacino’s performance falls below the elevated Mendoza line. When watching The Irishman, you never forget that it’s Pacino you are watching, and that’s a detriment. With Pesci, De Niro, Paquin and even Caannavale, you remember their characters. Not the case with Hoffa and Pacino.
With that being said, his performance is NOT bad by any means. It’s very good and there is no argument against that. One of the best interactions in the entire movie is in Miami when Hoffa meets with Tony Pro and the argument about shorts, suits and meeting attire transpires. But there are scenes in the hotel rooms or when speaking at Union rallies where one forgets about Hoffa and remembers its Pacino just playing Hoffa. It’s hard to get lost because Pacino is so well known for his flamboyant tirades and delivery. It’s more of the same, which isn’t bad but it’s not entirely engrossing.
In summary, Pesci should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor and it’s hard to argue with De Niro getting a nomination for Best Actor if he does. The most unsung hero on the screen was Anna Paquin and don’t think Pacino deserves a nomination from the Academy.
Now getting to Scorsese, he directed the hell out The Irishman. The movie looks awesome and he got the best out of every single person on the screen. His ability to ensure every performer has a chance to show their gusto is admirable, and then the camera work during the quiet moments is minimal to add an extra air softness.
Another award possibility for The Irishman is Adapted Screenplay. What a return to form for Steven Zaillian! He is a four-time Oscar nominated screenwriter, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for Schindler’s List in 1993. The Irishman has a good chance to get him back in that elite category again, and that’s not too shabby for having not written a movie screenplay since Exodus: Gods and Kings in 2014. Before that, this was the major hot streak that Zaillian was on: American Gangster (2007), Moneyball (2011) and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011.). A true return to form taking text of Charles Brandt’s book “I Heard You Paint Houses” and bringing it life.
I think of The Irishman in three parts, with the three major actors taking the helm in each different one. Pesci shines in the first 45 minutes as he slowly twiddles Frank into the world of mobsters. Their genuine friendship is discovered and Bufalino decided it was time to introduce his new confidant to Jimmy Hoffa. So begins the second act of the story where Pacino takes the lead. Hoffa goes through his tribulations and Frank is trying to be a guiding hand, but that can only go so far. The third act of the movie comes right when Bufalino tells Frank that Hoffa has gone past the limit and steps must be taken. De Niro takes the wheel and makes the last 60+ minutes the most personal and heartfelt of the entire saga.
Everyone who came together to bring this modern-day epic to life accomplished something that’ll be remembered as one of the most ambitious mobster movies ever. The technology of modernizing faces, the sheer scope of time covered, and the consistency of the performances all make The Irishman a more than worthy watch. Whenever the pace seems to be slowing, the performances are nevertheless engaging. It’s got the Scorsese touch and safe to say it’ll be among the elite few to earn five-plus Oscar nominations.
Stanko Rating: B+