Scorsese Returns to His Mafia Film Roots in “The Irishman”
By: Vincent Villani
This past year has been a nostalgic one for Hollywood. Esteemed filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Taika Waititi put history on film with their own unique spin in their films this year, with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Jojo Rabbit,” respectively.
Martin Scorsese is no different. His film, “The Irishman,” assembles a familiar cast and dives head first into one of American history’s greatest mysteries, offering its own sequence of events while telling an unusual tale of crime and punishment; the kind that Scorsese became famous for.
“The Irishman” tells the story of a mafia hitman, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), his dealings with the Philadelphia mob, and his friendship with union organizer, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The film offers its own take on the notorious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa in 1975, a mystery that still has yet to be solved.
The film follows Sheeran’s career as a hitman from beginning to end, leading to a final act in the film’s last half hour that makes one wonder what true justice really is.
In “The Irishman,” Scorsese assembles a “greatest hits” cast from his past films, allowing them to turn a film that could easily be seen as history lecture into a compelling drama about criminals and their lives of pleasure and pain.
The most notable performance comes from Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, a notorious Philadelphia crime boss. Pesci delivers the performance of his career, trading in his usual performance as the boisterous tough guy for a more reserved, intimidating and at times, chilling one. While he only plays a supporting role, Pesci steals every scene he is in with his almost Godfather-like presence.
Al Pacino also delivers a fantastic performance. He breathes life into Jimmy Hoffa for a society that has mostly forgotten who he was. Pacino is able to make Hoffa into this complex character.
He paints Hoffa as a man of great passion and ideals who has fallen in with a dangerous crowd, forced to wear two faces as a public figure. Pacino delivers moments of explosive fury as well as ones of pensive calm all while making them seem natural.
In addition to performances, “The Irishman” also boasts the use of new motion capture technology used to make the sixty-year-old cast members look thirty again. While this technology did its job with flying colors, it could not compensate for the actors’ physical performances. It turns out that even if Robert DeNiro looks like he’s thirty it doesn’t mean he can move like he’s thirty.
The film is being distributed by Netflix but has also received a limited release in theaters. The film is also noted for its three and a half hour run time; a definite turn-off for some viewers.
However, between the stellar performances of the lead and supporting cast and the spectacle of the story, the seemingly extensive run time will feel like no time at all.
As a whole, Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is a familiar tale of violent delights and violent ends. However, unlike Scorsese’s early work, it takes a less spectacular approach to the criminal underworld, choosing to be more pensive and focusing on memory and losing those we love.
Its extensive run time may seem like a stain but it’s the amount of time that was needed to tell such a story.
“The Irishman” released in the United States on September 27th and is currently streaming on Netflix.