Review – The Irishman

Scorsese reunites with De Niro and Pesci and delivers a sprawling mob epic of a cinematic masterpiece

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The last time Martin Scorsese worked with Robert De Niro was 1995’s Casino – their 8th film together. The world of cinema has shifted greatly in the last 24 years and there’s little better example than their 9th film – 2019’s The Irishman – was funded and released via (except for a very limited cinema release) by Netflix.

Based on ‘I heard you paint houses’ by Charles Brandt, the film recounts the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro) a hitman for the Bufalino crime family. The main element of the story is Sheeran’s alleged involvement with the famous disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

At its heart, the film sees a remarkable coming together of legendary filmmakers. Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci is a remarkable line up and the epic scale of the film (which clocks in at 3 hours  29 minutes) is not unreasonable for the tale here.

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Stretching over a 50 year period, one of the discussion points of the film was the de-aging techniques used to take the now 76 years old De Niro (and others) to appear far younger. It’s something that has been used in other films (Samuel L Jackson in Captain Marvel I think as well) but I don’t recall a use of it to anywhere near this extent before. Personally, I’d say that it took about 20 minutes for me to stop trying to spot the effects and look at it like a ‘weird cinema trick’.

Starting out as a delivery driver, De Niro is embraced by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and he is increasingly drawn into the mafioso world that includes turns by Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Ramano, Stephen Graham and Jesse Plemons. We also follow Frank’s family as they react to his new life with his 4 daughters including Anna Paquin.

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The film itself is a true work of art. The cinematography is remarkable and shot after shot shows the artistic capability of Scorsese and his team (Rodrigo Prieto filmed this along with Wolf of Wall Street and Silence).

De Niro, Pacino and Pesci all do what they do best here, and what surprised me was that it was Joe Pesci (who effectively retired from acting in 1999 with only very rare film appearances since) whose performance I found myself raving most about.

With a rumoured budget of $159 million, the box office takings of $8m would be genuinely disastrous, however in the economics of streaming video, that is no measure of audience engagement or response.

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What we have here, is a masterpiece of a delivery by some of the greatest filmmakers in modern cinema history. There is a meta sense to the idea of going back in time with these and over 3 and half hours watching them flex all of their movie making muscles. From the performances, to direction, it is a mob movie on an epic scale and entirely in keeping with their already legendary statuses.

There is a real sense of reflection in this film and that it is partly made by a team that delivered some of the greatest films ever creates a sense of this retrospection beyond the story itself. The Irishman is a cinematic feat – even with the initial distractions of the very early visual effects.  It may not have the edge of his earlier films but instead it offers a master of the art, delivering a real moment in film – whatever the delivery method to the viewer now is.

10/10

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