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The Irishman - an epic gangster drama with an A-list mob

The Irishman (15)
Running time 3h 29min
Rating ***

MASTERFUL Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese finally returns to the gangster genre with this mobster epic The Irishman. Based on the narrative non-fiction book by Charles Brandt called I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman chronicles the life of Frank Sheeran, a mafia hitman who worked for the Bufalino crime family and became involved with the infamous leader of the Teamsters labour union, Jimmy Hoffa.

As well as being directed by the legendary Scorsese, the film also stars pure American acting royalty. Robert De Niro, a frequent collaborator of Scorsese’s, plays Sheeran, while Al Pacino, who surprisingly has never worked with the veteran director before, plays Hoffa. Joe Pesci even came out of retirement to work on the project, playing crime boss Russel Bufalino.

The film was in development hell for many years, but when the cast was finally announced, excitement couldn’t get any higher. Although the film has seen a limited theatrical release, it has been primarily distributed on the streaming service giant Netflix, which funded the project. Considering my own admiration for Scorsese and the actors’ previous work (especially De Niro), I myself couldn’t wait to see what The Irishman had in store and I was prepared to sit through its three-and-half-hour runtime to find out.

Despite the critical praise it is receiving, I couldn’t help but find the film slow-paced, boring and relatively self-indulgent. It is obvious from the outset that The Irishman is a far more sombre and reserved film than Scorsese’s previous gangster efforts.
It begins in a nursing home, with an aging Sheeran narrating his past life as a hitman, a far cry from the explosive beginning of Casino or the darkly comic opening of Goodfellas. I was expecting this maturity from both Scorsese and his actors, but with the film lacking the kinetic energy and wit of what came before it, it doesn’t earn its inflated runtime.

Don’t get me wrong, Scorsese still displays how he is one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers.
Returning to where he is most comfortable, he revisits familiar themes of power and loyalty, but the glamour found in his earlier films is nowhere to be found here. His direction of his actors is superb and his visuals do look wonderful, very much lending itself to the dark tone of the film. The Irishman just didn’t contain excitement or interest to keep me enthralled for so long. I did enjoy the ending however, which enters far more depressing and nihilistic territory than I expected.

The film is a masterclass of acting, even if I did find the characters to be a little too reserved and uninteresting at times. De Niro again proves why he’s regarded as one of the world’s greatest living actors, playing the conflicted and complex Sheeran perfectly at many different ages throughout his life. Seeing Sheeran during his final lonely days in a retirement home is quite heart-breaking, and these scenes all but confirm De Niro’s inevitable Leading Actor Oscar nomination.

Pacino, playing a very Pacino-type role, does well as Hoffa. The character’s delusions of grandeur and feelings of invincibility lend itself well to Pacino’s strengths and it can’t help but make me wonder what kind of film could’ve been made if Scorsese directed him in his youthful prime. Pesci’s return to acting is a real treat to watch. Instead of the hot-headed mobster I expected, Pesci’s Bufalino was in fact a quiet but powerful force, channelling Don Corleone from The Godfather in a refreshing change from Pesci’s usual roles.

As the story takes place over a number of decades, Scorsese employed CGI anti-aging technologies to change the appearance of the actors. This technology works surprisingly well most of the time, although there is quite an obvious discord between the actors’ youthful faces and their less than youthful body movements.

The Irishman is certainly not a bad film, it just isn’t a great one. You can see that both Scorsese and his actors enjoyed themselves making this movie, but its overly-bloated runtime and lack of truly exciting moments prevent The Irishman from reaching the hallmarks of perfection they have all reached before. For diehard cinephiles and Scorsese fans, this film will be a home run, but for the average movie fan I’d recommend watching Goodfellas on Netflix instead.

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