Martin Scorsese is one of those directors who I would define as #HollywoodRoyalty ..Up there in the upper echelons of classic movie-makers together alongside other greats like Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann, James Cameron…to name but a few. Basically a living #Legend.
Watching his latest epic got me hooked from start to finish and that is what makes a great story-teller! The Irishman gripped me and didn’t let go until the very end as was the case with Scorsese’s previous masterpieces I remember fondly – namely The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Based on a book called I Heard You Paint Houses by Harvard law Professor Jack Goldsmith, it introduces us to Frank Sheeran – The Irishman of the title – as he recounts his life working as a hit-man for the Italian mafia as well as moving up the ranks as a teamster then later as the head of a local union while he strikes up a close bond with the infamous president of the biggest union in the US at the time – the 1960s – Jimmy Hoffa.
It gave me chills! It made me laugh! I was emo in parts due to the aspect of, and sometimes lack of, fatherhood prevalent throughout the film whether it was (*spoilers*) Joe Pesci’s mafia boss Russell Bufalino taking ‘young’ (a de-aged Robert De Niro) Frank Sheeran under his wing, Sheeran showing how close he is with his daughters when they’re kids only to slowly lose that paternal bond the more he ‘goes to work’ for the mafia to a later scene in a court room where a failed assassination attempt on Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) results in Hoffa’s adult son joining his dad in a good ol’ stomp, kick and beat down of the would-be assassin ’til the poor bozo is hauled away by police.
There’s many moments like these that keeps you entertained. At 3 and a half hours long, you would expect Mr. Scorsese to produce nothing less than a acting tour-de-force especially with the – that hashtag again – #HollywoodRoyalty he’s roped into creating this sprawling world of the Mafia and its ties to unions in America during that time:
The trio of De Niro, Pesci and Pacino are a delight to watch.
It’s fascinating to watch Pesci as the quiet, reserved mob boss Russ Bufalino as I’m more used to him having ultraviolent flourishes a la Goodfellas and Casino. He guides Frank along as the mentor Frank never knew he needed. Pacino’s Hoffa is a firecracker and, since I’ve only ever heard about Hoffa..in this case Hoffa’s body referenced from other films and had no prior knowledge of who he was and what he did etc, I was totally invested in this character and believed that he was this ruthless, smart and cunning leader who would play dirty to get what he wanted but always fought for the interest of the members of his massive union, for the little guy working in factories, taxi cabs etc.
And then there’s De Niro’s Frank. We are shown Frank Sheeran, first as an old man in a wheelchair narrating this tale spanning several decades to when he first meets Russ and then going on to carry out job after job for the mafia to the brotherly bond that is developed with Hoffa. We root Frank on, we empathize with him and are shocked by his actions. And then there’s the much touted de-aging CGI and make up used on De Niro and, to an extent, Pesci – it has its ups and downs.
For example, it is kind of obvious that Sheeran’s stocky physique in the 60’s can’t hide the fact that it’s still, ultimately, showing a 76 year old De Niro’s physique – even if he’s wearing a period-setting coat or full on suit and the dark hair is slicked back and skin isn’t so wrinkly. I’ll be honest and say that the de-aging used on Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel, released back in March this year is visibly better and yet shares the same problem due to the fact that both Jackson and De Niro have 70+ year old bodies and therefore can’t move as fast as eg: men who are 30-40 years younger.
And the decision for Frank to have blue eyes is a curious one as I personally feel it wasn’t necessary. (I’m sure many reviewers will agree with me). The whole make-up thing is passable. You can guess that Scorsese and the make up team tried their best with De Niro and Pesci when both Russ and Frank are shown in their 60’s period setting but all the more shine when they are shown in their old age towards the end of the movie. Still the acting is spot-on for De Niro as the ever loyal Sheeran commits himself to everything Russ asks him to do.
The ending is a bit unexpectedly subdued but then I felt that perhaps Scorsese left it purposefully ambiguous and I’m ok with that.
Admittedly, I watched this in three parts and still found it thrilling. It almost felt like watching a limited series. The last 3 hour+ film I watched was a little film called Avengers Endgame but that didn’t feel like a 3 hour film. Whereas this one, at 3.5 hours long, I was content to split it up and yet still come away feeling like it was an enjoyable piece of cinematic history.