Tuesday Review – The Irishman (2019)

films, reviews

the_irishman_poster5_star_rating_system_3_and_a_half_stars This weekend saw the 77th Golden Globe awards take place. Unusually, the winners were pretty much the people you’d expect them to be. Well, apart from Olivia Colman winning for her work on The Crown. I love Colman in anything but she wasn’t given anything to do in that series. I know the Queen isn’t exactly a highly dramatic character but she was the least interesting character in her own show. But the most interesting thing to come out of the evening was the massive snub of Netflix’s two major award contenders. Neither Marriage Story or The Irishman walked away with any of the awards they’d been nominated for. Was this just a vicious snub by the HFPA or should Netflix be worried for the Academy Awards? If not even Scorsese is a guaranteed winner then who knows what will happen? Although, I’m sure Sam Mendes is a deserving winner. 1917 looks fucking amazing. But Netflix really had put massive work into getting the Oscar they so clearly deserved with Roma. Is this really proof that, no matter what they do, Netflix will never be accepted by the awards committees?

I’ve been thinking about The Irishman ever since I watched it. It proved to be very difficult for me to rate it. On the one hand, I know how technically brilliant and well-made this film is. One of the greatest directors has gathered an amazing cast and written an indulgent and full narrative of one man’s life with the mob. It’s unquestionably an epic. However, it didn’t blow me away from a storytelling point of view. It was interesting but was it entertaining? It filled its massive runtime with goodness but would I have minded if it was shorter? Not really. I guess it’s just never been my thing. If I had a choice of film to watch, I’d probably not pick the gangster film. So, I was torn. Do I go with what I know to be true or do I go with my gut?

In the end, I went for a balanced approach and gave it what it deserved. Not quite 5 stars because I watched this film after Marriage Story and that utterly blew me away. But, 4.5 stars felt fair to me. I’ll be honest, there were moments during this film where I asked myself if I could be bothered carrying on. Some long films don’t feel long. The Irishman felt like a film that ran for 3.5 hours. I know what I’m about to say will horrify Scorsese and his most loyal fanboys but Endgame didn’t feel like a 3-hour film. Just saying. Of course, the more I thought about what you could get rid of the more I realised that everything makes sense. You need to see the whole journey to see how he became the man he is. To understand what the film is saying.

Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. It chronicles the rise of Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), a war veteran turned hitman. His pursuits lead him to cross paths with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and his Teamsters. Frank starts the film as a driver and, after a chance encounter with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Frank becomes a key member of the mob. The film skips between the different periods of his life and the narrative is sandwiched between a glimpse of Frank towards the end of his life. He is narrating the story to an unknown figure as he sits in a wheelchair in an old people’s home. The sheer scope of the film is wonderous. It brings so much together and, for the most part, manages to keep everything flowing well. The jumps between time periods never feels awkward and the editing makes it all seem very natural. It’s very clever stuff.

The Irishman is pure Scorses and features everything you have come to expect from one of his films. But this sees Scorses in a more reflective mood. He’s is a nostalgic mood and is clearly thinking about legacy. There is an aspect of Frank’s story that discusses the consequences of a life of violence. Or, perhaps, a life promoting violent acts in films. Using Sheeran’s story, the group are able to come back together to look back on their own relationships and the films they’ve made. It leads to something much deeper than you expect. The final half-hour or so of the film is its best. It offers the poignant and emotional focus of the whole thing. We see that glamorousing violent men doesn’t lead to happiness and focuses on the destruction that they leave in their wake. I know a lot of people have criticised Anna Paquin’s role but it’s her strong silence that brings life to the final part of the film. She might not say a lot but Paquin brings a lot to the story.

When it comes to the technology that gives actors Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino a more youthful look, I think it was mostly successful. However, I was not a fan of the super blue that DeNiro’s eyes ended up. It brought back horrible memories of The Polar Express. It’s distracting and unnerving but the rest of the process is really impressive. At least until a 76-year-old DeNiro is pretending to be a middle-aged Frank beating someone up. The kicks don’t quite seem as damaging as they sound thanks to post-production. It’s a shame but the obviously limited or careful movements of the actor don’t always fit with his age. But that’s a minor quibble. If you can ignore these things, it’s thrilling to see a young DeNiro on screen again.

Overall, The Irishman is a very considered and mature film. The camera movements are slow and deliberate when they need to be. It’s also a film that he and the cast clearly had a ball making. You can tell how comfortable everyone feels making this kind of film. It’s fun watching as Scorsese and co. just do what they do best. And to say this is a dream-worthy cast is an understatement. Every single person is on the top of their game and work so well together. It’s great seeing so many masters in one place. I guess it could probably have done with a little less of the history lesson in the middle of the film. This is by far the film’s weakest part. Maybe pointing to the fact that Scorsese’s ambitions were slightly too big. The connection between politics and the mob never gels as quickly as it should have done. But, it is satisfying to see Frank moving between each decade. It’s fun to watch his style change with the changing years.

So, yeah, The Irishman is a great film. And I guess the breathtaking ending is mostly worth the 3 previous hours because it’s such a gut-wrenching and emotional finale. But is it the kind of film I’ll ever watch again? I don’t think so. When it comes to sheer enjoyment, it wasn’t exactly the ride I’m after. It’s the kind of thing that would be good to come back every now and then. To see how my attitude changes towards it. And the good thing is, something this well-made will never go out of style.

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