“When I was young, I thought house painters painted houses.”
The Irishman is essential viewing for any gangster-movie buff. It is a very ambitious movie, despite the aging cast and director. Martin Scorsese takes risks at every turn – some pay off and some flop, but I respect the Scorsese team for continuing to push boundaries even in the sunset of his career.
Scorsese tasked Robert De Niro with a nearly impossible task for the film. De Niro, 76, portrays Frank Sheeran for his entire life: from the protagonist’s early twenties in WWII until his death. It is one thing for a young actor to play an old man, depressing one’s vitality and stiffening one’s movements, but how does one put vitality back into oneself? A 70-year-old is not limber like a 30-year-old. This cannot be removed through CGI. The viewer is left having to accept that maybe this was how tight Sheeran was in real life. Only then can one truly become lost in The Irishman’s magical early scenes. The de-aging becomes less prominent as the movie progresses and the characters age.
De-aging was done on all three starring actors: De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Through the CGI, the actors are phenomenal, even if they come across as the oldest 30-year-olds you have ever met. Pacino is quirky as Hoffa, but he also delivers some scenes that I cannot get out of my head and his delivery of some dialogue still rings in my ears. Pesci finally gets to play the boss he was meant to play – no more henchman, number two or faux-made man.
The secondary cast is also brilliant, which I accredit, in part, to Scorsese’s directing ability and renown. What man is not picking up Scorsese’s phone call and then putting 110% in on set? Actors Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Domenick Lombardozzi, Stephen Graham, Sebastian Maniscalco and Jesse Plemons all put in stellar performances. High praise must go to Graham, who, as Tony Pro, stole the show in each scene he was in and gave the film some of its most memorable, and most gangster, scenes.
As with many Scorsese classics, The Irishman is a male-dominated picture, with the female characters playing small roles. The Irishman tries to make a strong storyline out of Sheeran‘s relationship with his daughter, Peggy, but it gives the movie some of its weakest moments. Women get a few good scenes in the movie; however, they always seem to be added and not essential to the story. Pesci coming home and his wife helping him with his bloodied clothes: a great scene but was it necessary? Pacino’s wife telling him that, once he becomes Teamster president again, he can fire Tony Pro whenever he wants. Pacino’s Hoffa laughs it off with a hug and a kiss – but nothing comes of it.
The camera work is masterful. I loved the dolly and crane shot that went across the waxy courtroom floor and close onto Romano’s face during a well-delivered speech. The Irishman ups the ante later in the movie with a dolly and crane over a crowd of people ending up close onto De Niro’s face as he takes the stand.
The plot is intricate, easy to get lost in and full of subtleties. I loved the amount of forewarning De Niro and Hoffa’s son (played by Plemmons) try to give Hoffa without saying anything in the film’s climactic scene, and how much thought Pesci’s character and the mob had put into this charade to make sure Hoffa was comfortable. I had to watch the movie multiple times to discover how much of a boss Pesci’s character truly was (“I know.” “No, you don’t know.”). A subtle duality I noted was De Niro’s reintroduction to guns, after WWII, when a piece is thrust upon him by Cannavale. The scene is akin to De Niro’s character in The Godfather II, who first touches a gun in America after it is thrown to him by Clemenza through the window. Both scenes deliver the same message: trouble finds you.