There’s been a lot said about Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman leading up to and following its release: it’s too long, it relies on de-aging technology, it’s just another mob movie. While some of these things are true to a certain degree, it’s also so much more than that. Put simply, The Irishman is another late-career masterpiece from one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
Martin Scorsese, a director who needs no introduction, directs this sprawling mob epic with all the finesse and style of a master. It’s true that The Irishman is a long film, and at times you feel aware of that length, but it’s a testament to Scorsese’s style and voice that nothing feels like a waste of time. This film is dense but made very palatable by Scorsese’s sense of humor, as well as trademark touches like freeze-frames. Following his previous feature, Silence, Scorsese seems to have leaned even more into an epic-feeling style, and it suits him. Maintaining control over a three-and-a-half hour film is no easy task, yet he makes it look effortless.
The Irishman tells the story of union-worker Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, chronicling how he came to play a role in the Bufalino crime family and work with union leader Jimmy Hoffa. The plot of this film spans decades and is told often in non-chronological order. This method of storytelling can make the time that some early scenes take place in hard to follow, but once adjusted, the plot is completely immersive. Yes, this is a mobster movie, but like Scorsese’s previous efforts, it contains layers. The Irishman is just as much about Frank and Jimmy as it is about masculinity, growing old, and the legacies that people leave behind, for better or worse. The story shifts between comedy, drama, and action effortlessly, resulting in an engaging story that might meander every once in awhile. It also contains a masterfully melancholy final hour, with one of the best endings of the year.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
This film stars Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, and Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, each providing a masterclass in acting. Pesci returns from retirement to give us a role absolutely full of silent menace, while Pacino provides comedy and pathos in equal measure. Both are arguably giving the performances of their careers here, which is absolutely thrilling to see, but it’s De Niro who has the most to give. As young Frank, he is a man without direction, always seeking the approval of those he respects. As he gets older, his portrayal slowly transforms into a remorseful and lost old man left with nothing. It’s the best he’s been in decades, and one of the great performances of his career and of the year. The superb leading trio is supported by a fantastic and deep cast featuring Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons, and a wonderfully understated Anna Paquin.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The Irishman’s score is full of recurring, almost Western-like themes that are employed perfectly, adding to the epic feel of the movie. Likewise, the sound design is flawless, with gunshots and explosions that carry plenty of weight while also emphasizing the locking of doors and the click of a cane hitting the floor. This is an immersive film.
Your opinion on the de-aging technology in this film will depend on personal preference, but I found it to be handled exceptionally well. It never veered into the uncanny valley for me, and the use of the technology was incredibly worthwhile for giving us consistent performances from all involved. This would not have been the same film if younger actors played the younger versions of these characters.
Sprawling, funny, and haunted by sorrow, Scorsese has crafted a decade-spanning mob epic for the ages. While it meanders just a little too much in its second act, The Irishman has a stunning final hour with possibly the best final shot of the year. Featuring masterful performances from its lead trio and a gripping narrative, this is a movie not to be missed. It’s what it is.