Film: The Irishman Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian Music by: Robbie Robertson Distributed by: Netflix Directed by: Martin Scorsese Review by: Antonios Romniou
Rating: 5 out of 5 X's There’s something about mafia movies that gets people excited. I think it’s the world a mobster lives. Is it fantasy? It can't be fantasy if it's real. The rebellious and aggressive lifestyle balanced with family life is what gives people the "what if?". People can't help but to marvel in awe when they witness stories like those portrayed in say (The Godfather) or (GoodFellas). People leave the cinema thinking “How is this real life? That, really happened.” At least I do anyway, and that’s how I felt after watching Martin Scorsese's (The Irishman). Which is set to be released on Netflix, but I had to see this film in theatres. It’s a movie you have to see on the big screen. No interruptions, just you and the movie. If you read other reviews out there, they were something along the lines of “this film is a masterpiece,” or, its “Scorsese’s best film.” “The movie event of the year!” This story, these actors, this director, how could it not live up to the hype. Well, I'm here to say The Irishman definitely delivers, at length, and it certainly lives up to the hype. Literally, all 209 minutes of run time. But did we expect anything less from Scorsese? With the ultimate cast consisting of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, who are basically on-screen mob royalty, you have to expect this to be an epic film. This is essentially the Hall of Fame of mafia movies. Legendary is an understatement. We look back today at films like Casino, GoodFellas and The Godfather, hell even The Departed and we say “that’s a classic.” The Irishman adds to the legendary resume of Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, The Irishman is an instant classic. I think it’s safe to say that The Godfather started it all and set the standard for mob movies. The Irishman finishes it, and puts a cherry on top of mafia movies and the legendary actors we've come to have known as the “mafioso actors”. They don’t need to make any more mafia movies. They go out with a bang. There’s a reason why Scorsese was so set on using the de-aging technology and not casting other actors. He was adamant about using his legendary cast and going on one last hurrah, one last ride if you will, in the mafia realm. Same actors he used in his very first film, Mean Streets, starred Keitel and De Niro. It's truly a full circle moment in this cinematic circle we've come to cherish. Scorsese does an excellent job using his techniques in The Irishman similar to what we’ve seen in his other films. The Copacabana scene in GoodFellas, when Henry takes Karen on their first date and they go through the underground entrance through the kitchen, escaping the crowds. Scorsese uses one camera shot this whole scene. This gives the audience the feel of being in the moment. Makes you feel like being in the mafia is a good thing and it comes with all these perks. It showed the audience that by being connected, meant you can be treated like royalty. It displays the power and respect that comes with that lifestyle. You don’t have to worry about a reservation because the host of the restaurant knows who you are and deep down knows what you're capable of, so he makes room and gets you a table. In (The Irishman) Scorsese uses this same exact technique with the camera. The film begins in a nursing home, the camera pans through the hall ways and you see elderly people living their last days, it gives a somber tone, until finally you come across an old man sitting in his wheel chair by himself, lonely. In GoodFellas the scene was exciting, in The Irishman it’s the opposite. Scorsese uses a different tone. We see that it is the end of the road for Frank Sheeran, he isn’t what he used to be. Not only for Frank Sheeran, but metaphorically speaking for DeNiro as well. Sheeran has lived an incredible and corruptible life and now he finds himself alone in a nursing home with a story to tell. For DeNiro, its a metaphor that this is his last film as a mafia gangster and possibly the last real film he makes that is relevant. Unlike Scorsese’s other films, there’s no sensationalizing in this film. There’s no lavish lifestyle. For example, the music in the film is not used to amp up the scene or set the tone. Instead its used for the mood of the scene. In The Departed, Shipping up to Boston is played loud and clear. Sets the tone for the film. Tells the audience that a force is coming, pay attention. There’s no Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton playing while the camera slowly zooms in on Jimmy Burke, he is sipping his whiskey while chasing it with water, when he’s contemplating on whacking Maury in GoodFellas. The mood in The Irishman is more personal and the music tells us this. Because for the first time, Scorsese tells a story of betrayal. Its personal, not business. Scorsese relies solely on the actors to do the job themselves and tell the story. He lets the dialogue create the scene and the emotions present themselves naturally. Other mafia movies have shown us how gangsters try and balance organized crime with family life. The Irishman shows the exact opposite. The only family life we see on film is with Frank Sheeran and the lack of family life he had. There are glimpses in this film when we see him spending time with his family but it shows how out of touch he was with his daughters. In one scene, Sheeran and Pesci’s character Russell Bufalino are out bowling. Bufalino explains to Sheeran that he must stay close with his family and love his children and make sure his children love him. Bufalino also mentions to Sheeran that he and his wife were unable to have children and that’s why it’s important not to take your family for granted. There’s another scene where Bufalino gives a Christmas gift to Sheeran’s daughter, Peggy. It shows Bufalino is vying for the family life he doesn’t have and Sheeran takes it for granted because he has shown he is committed to Bufalino. In a sense, Bufalino was his only family. Bufalino does tell Sheeran “I treated you like a son.” Sheeran becomes close with Al Pacino’s character, Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa has a nuclear family similar to Sheeran, unlike Bufalino. Sheeran’s children take to Hoffa and see him as part of their family more so than their interactions with Bufalino. Peggy is always warm towards Hoffa but not to Bufalino. Its Bufalino, that Sheeran really wants Peggy to be warm to. Sheeran sees Bufalino as his family and his real family won’t accept it. The Irishman is truly a story of family and betrayal. Frank Sheeran befriends Russell Bufalino at a young age doing small tasks at first then eventually becoming a trusted associate of Bufalino. If a job needed to be done Sheeran was the man to do it. Without question Sheeran would do anything for Bufalino, even paint houses. As Sheeran becomes more involved with the mafia, he starts to realize that the family he is a part of is complicated which includes dealings with the United States government. The mafia has interests in getting back in to Cuba after being ousted by new leader Fidel Castro. The mafia makes a deal with Joe Kennedy to help his son, John F. Kennedy, become President of the United States. They commit voter fraud in Illinois to help JFK get elected. The mafia and the United States have a mutual interest in getting Fidel Castro out of power. Before being kicked out of Cuba the mafia saw Cuba as a cash cow. Money was flowing through the casinos they were running in Cuba. The United States disliked Castro’s political ideologies. So, they partnered together to try and get Castro out. This is where the Bay of Pigs event happens and it becomes a fiasco and didn’t work out in anyone’s favor. Scorsese does a great job by connecting other films with The Irishman. Back in 1991, Oliver Stone came out with JFK. A film based on the only trial on JFK’s death and the conspiracy behind JFK’s assassination. Joe Pesci played Dave Ferry in that film. Ferry was a gay man who had ties to the CIA and was the middle man between the mafia and the CIA. They worked together during the Bay of Pigs incident in trying to assassinate Castro. In The Irishman, Bufalino instructs Sheeran to drive a rig with unknown contents down to Florida, he indicates he will meet a “Fairy named Ferry.” Scorsese was able to display Pesci with two different characters in time through two different films about the same complicated event, that’s astounding to me. I’ve watched JFK numerous times and still find some of it confusing. A lot of information. But Dave Ferry’s character now makes sense. In JFK, Ferry becomes paranoid and thinks someone is out to get him. But he never indicates who. Ferry is then found dead unexpectedly. It was presumed he was poisoned. Connecting the two films and now having a clearer understanding of Ferry’s role with the Bay of Pigs incident, Ferry was killed by the mafia so there wouldn’t be a connection with his associations with the mafia. Having understood that, Pesci essentially killed himself through two different movies. I digress. My point being, the ability to correlate this through the writing from Steven Zaillian (American Gangster, Gangs of New York) and the casting from Scorsese shows subversion and true brilliance. Tarantino would be pleased! Scorsese also takes opportunity to connect other films and television as well. Hoffa’s wife played by Welker White was also the babysitter in GoodFellas who wouldn’t fly without her lucky hat. Because of this Henry Hill is forced to jump in his car and drive to go get her hat. In that instance Hill is confronted by police, who at first, he thought were wise guys. He knew it wasn’t wise guys because if it were, he would have been dead. In the Irishman Josephine Hoffa is fired from the Teamsters Union and when she gets in her car she has a moment where she thinks the car is going to explode. She contemplates turning the key in the ignition. Scorsese grips the audience with subtle intensity, no music. She eventually turns the key and the car doesn’t explode. Scorsese also shows character connections like the subtle cameo by Steven Van Zandt as singer Jerry Vale. His mafia connection is he played Silvio in The Sopranos. Stephen Graham who played Tony Pro also played Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire and was a member of the Dead Rabbits gang in Gangs of New York. Don Rickles even makes an appearance telling jokes, played by comedian Jim Norton. If this movie rings true then Rickles was actually there telling jokes to members of the mafia. Not to mention he was in the film Casino alongside DeNiro. Harvey Keitel worked with Scorsese in his first films, most notably Mean Streets where he was associated at a bar and frequently hung out, and DeNiro was an associate of his. In (The Irishman) Keitel plays mob boss Angelo Bruno where the restaurant/bar is used as Bruno’s headquarters, also where Sheeran is associated with Bruno. These are examples of how Scorsese is able to connect films and television based on mafia and gangsters the same way the real mafia is connected through our daily lives, whether we are aware or not. In essence, this is why The Irishman is being hailed as Scorsese’s masterpiece. He’s able to intertwine so many aspects of real life, film, and actors in to one film. While also using the top actors associated with mafia films and television of our time. This is Scorsese’s love letter to himself. When it comes to the acting performances, we get what we expect from De Niro. The usual facial expressions and the typical mafia associate who isn’t Italian. In GoodFellas he played Jimmy Burke who was half Irish and half Italian, in Casino he played Ace Rothstein who was Jewish and, in The Irishman, he played, of course an Irishman. From Pesci, we get something we don’t expect in a mafia film. A mild mannered respected business man who is searching for the one thing he doesn’t have, a family. Not only that, for the first time Pesci plays someone who isn’t the loudest in the room, although when he is on screen, you’re taken aback by him because you know you’re witnessing a legend at work. Similar to when going to a sporting event and watching Tom Brady or LeBron James play. You’re in their realm. You sit back and appreciate what your witnessing. Al Pacino, in my opinion gives the top performance of the film and should be nominated for an award as Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino portrays Hoffa’s arrogance and untouchable personality. Whoever Hoffa was talking to, it didn’t matter their status, he was going to express what he thought was right. Hoffa made sure he was the loudest person in the room. Oh, and never be late for a meeting with him and make sure you don’t wear shorts. There is one-time Hoffa allows someone to be late for a meeting and he should have known something was wrong. Betrayal presents itself in a couple different ways in The Irishman. Sheeran befriends Hoffa. Becoming best friends in some regard. In one instance, Hoffa gets Sheeran upset during a meeting and Sheeran storms off. Hoffa goes chasing after him to convince him to come back. Hoffa becomes apologetic because he truly cares about Sheeran. Hoffa asks special favors from Sheeran where only a friend can trust a friend. Hoffa spends time with Sheeran’s family, they share birthdays and holidays together. Sheeran asks Hoffa to be the key note speaker at Sheeran’s party, where he was recognized for his work and dedication to the Teamsters Union. Peggy loves Hoffa, since a child she saw him as her favorite ‘uncle.’ Throughout the film, Sheeran is traveling by car with Bufalino to Detroit to attend the wedding of Bufalino’s niece. There was a meeting set up in Detroit where Hoffa was to meet with Tony Pro and go over Union business. The meeting was for 2:30PM and Sheeran was to meet Hoffa at 2:00PM. Sheeran instead meets in Detroit with an associate and Hoffa’s son, Chuckie. They show up at 2:40PM and change the location of the meeting. Hoffa is okay with it, he lets his guard down, because he sees Sheeran and his son in the vehicle. Hoffa gets in the car and is happy to see Sheeran, he gives him a big hug. Hoffa forgets that Frank “paints houses.” This is the last time Hoffa was seen. Sheeran betrays Hoffa by killing him, and unbeknownst to Chuckie, he drove his father to his death. A double betrayal. After Hoffa’s disappearance Peggy knew something wasn’t right and from there, she felt the ultimate betrayal from her father. Frank Sheeran betrays those he loved around except for the mafia. He stayed loyal to them. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is truly one of his best films. Like other great directors Scorsese works with the best. This is the first time he works with Al Pacino. I believe it brought out one of the best performances of his career. Scorsese was able to bring actors together that don’t usually work together. Seeing Pesci and Pacino on screen together was pure magic. Their banter and dialogue back and forth were in itself remarkable. Not only are great actors a recipe for a great movie but so is knowing your history. The way Scorsese was able to web together mafia history and the United States history to connect was excellent. Makes you question everything you know. Makes you say, “that really happened!?” Scorsese comes full circle with this film. It's his own love letter to himself, or to the mafia, depending on how you look at it. I always looked at Casino being an unofficial sequel to GoodFellas, well, now it’s a trilogy. The Irishman ends Scorsese’s masterful trilogy in the organized crime world in spectacular fashion. Playing in select theaters now as well as streaming on Netflix.