Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Ray Romano in The Irishman.
“Nowadays, young people, they don’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was. They don’t have a clue. I mean, they know that he disappeared or something, but that’s about it. But back then, there wasn’t nobody who didn’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was.”
Even as someone who received his bachelor’s degree in history, I must admit that Robert De Niro’s character, the titular Irishman Frank Sheeran, has a point. I vaguely recall learning about Hoffa (here played by the always mesmerizing Al Pacino) in Mr. Litchfield’s infamous AP U.S. History course, but really… how important of a historical figure can he be if he’s not mentioned in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire? Turns out he was very important, as Hoffa’s life and schemes, as well as Martin Scorsese’s resultant film, cast a focused light on a time when organized crime and politics went hand-in-hand and gangsters had influence over everything from the election of presidents to foreign policy.
De Niro’s Frank Sheeran, a working man turned mob hitman turned labor union official is the true core of the film, however. And what can I say about De Niro that hasn’t been said before? The man can act. Every single person in this cast can act. What else should one expect when one of the most acclaimed directors of our time gets such names as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (in his first role since his unofficial retirement from the film business) to act out what can only be described as a passion project? I was particularly impressed with Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino, for no other reason than my previous belief that he exclusively did comedies. Saying that De Niro didn’t really stand out in this cast is the best possible compliment I can give to the overall prowess displayed by these fine actors.
As much as we can depend on these actors giving great performances, we can count on Martin Scorsese being Martin Scorsese. That means lots of tracking shots, a plethora of freeze frames, and an abundance of voiceovers and flashbacks (at one point there is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback). As much as I respect and admire the man, I couldn’t help but feel like the movie would have benefited from someone reigning in his more self-indulgent tendencies. The first of these that must be addressed is the runtime. At three hours and twenty-nine minutes, The Irishman is long even for a modern Scorsese movie. Hoffa himself does not show up until the forty-six minute mark. Very rarely did I come across a scene that I felt could be cut completely (only one comes to mind, in fact), but I firmly believe that they could have easily edited the film down to a much more manageable three hours by utilizing some restraint. Did they feel like they could get away with it because it was a Netflix production, or were people too afraid to ask the famous director “Do we really need this five minutes of Robert De Niro traveling silently by himself?” Doesn’t matter. The end result is the same: an inevitable decline in enthusiasm for the considerable talents on display as your backside gets more and more sore.
This being a Scorsese movie, there is also more swearing and violence in The Irishman than a high school locker room. Realistic? Absolutely. Something a parent should bring the kiddies to? Not unless the kid is, for some odd reason, an ardent fan of three-and-a-half-hour crime dramas. This movie is hard R, make no mistake.
It is also by no means a feel good, “Let’s go to the theater to relax and have fun” type of movie, although that is probably obvious. If you are looking for a bright, breezy time, look elsewhere. Although the film shows glimpses of humor here and there, it is mostly a great movie about bad guys. Despite Sheeran’s talk of being a family man who does everything for his daughters, the guy is quite obviously a sociopath who says on multiple occasions that his murderous actions do not cause him any guilt in the slightest. People die, children get traumatized, and by the end Scorsese wordlessly asks the question “What was it all for? Was it worth it?” Powerful, yes. Fun, no.
Overall I give it an 8/10 for its astounding artistry and beauty. The only reason I don’t give it 10/10? My backside demands vengeance, and vengeance my backside will have.
The Irishman is currently playing at arthouse theaters, or you can catch it streaming on Netflix.