The Irishman (2019). Review of the crime film directed by Martin Scorsese

The Irishman (2019) Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino


2 stars film review fair passes the time

Film review by Jason Day of The Irishman the crime drama about a hitman recalling his friend, labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci and directed by Martin Scorsese.

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Mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) has led a colourful life. Looking back during his twilight years in a care home for the elderly, he recalls one particularly interesting ‘hit’ – notorious union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Poster image for The Irishman (2019)

So what did you think of The Yorkshireman?

Martin, Julie (2020).

I had to start my review of Martin Scorsese’s internationally lauded, multiple award nominated, operatic ode to the crime film genre that he is most associated with the above quote.

Admittedly it’s an accidental slip of the tongue,from my colleague and pal Julie Martin, so why am I highlighting it?

Because she inadvertently – and rather helpfully – hit the nail on the proverbial about this septuagenarian Scarface.

In a split second she summed up what it took me three and half wasted hours of my life to realise and write about this movie – it is completely and utterly dull compared to what you have been to led to expect.

Firstly I must point out I don’t think – and I’m quite sure Julie doesn’t either – that Yorkshire or its menfolk are dull. Far from it.

But think about it, in cinematic terms, the mafia have a certain glitz and glamour that doesn’t easily settle or transplant itself in the north of England.

To anyone who is English and – Julie, apologies! – who are of a certain age, Yorkshire can be stereotypically illustrated by the long-running, languid, ‘flat-cap and ferrets’ sitcom about three blokes going up hill and down dale in a bath Last of the Summer Wine.

(I’d also like to addhere that I don’t consider myself ageist but in my view The Irishman is the work of an old man starring old men and made for old men).

But back to movie criticism, there is a fine line between a movie being a slow, contemplative piece that allows the viewer time to digest and cogitate on the imagery placed before it and a rambling, drawn out disaster.

The Irishman, shuffles and dawdles when it should grip and compel, definitely falls into the latter description. But let’s talk about some good stuff such as the acting

The movie features a quartet of Scorsese’s finest stars under one cinematic roof. Perhaps it is for this nostalgic reason the world has gone gaga.

But it’s patchy stuff Scorsese and writer Steve Zaillian have offered them. Joe Pesci is curiously sidelined, despite showing immense promising menace in his early scenes with De Niro’s character’s daughter who rejects his friendship.

Pacino is highly amusing in the grandstanding ‘Hoo Ha!’ role of Jimmy Hoffa and gets the award nods, but it’s the quieter De Niro who impresses.

He’s reaped relatively few of the high profile acting award nominations, but he does have the less ‘wild and weird’ performances.

A;so, he is affected visually as the production team used ‘de-ageing’ computer technology to make him appear (supposedly) years younger…but it resolutely doesn’t work.

The trick was tried for some of the other actors but is more marked with De Niro ,who ends up for most of the movie with waxy skin and unnatural blue eyes. In short, he looks like a human character in The Polar Express (2004).

In the process of ‘de-ageing’ their elderly stars, the producers hit upon another problem. How do you make realistic the sudden explosions of violent physical activity that younger men in crime films exhibit?

They use younger men during unconvincing stand-in action sequences, another nail in this film’s coffin.

But I must stop being such a naysayer…on to the plus points.

Pacino might be the panto dame of The Irishman but you have to hand it to him he is at massively entertaining in the showier role of impresario Hoffa.

Script wise Zaillian does get in the odd smart, cinematic jab.

But one of the best pieces of dialogue – and one of the best scenes in the whole film – is a delicately textured explanation from De Niro about how best to approach a ‘hit’. Namely, that the hitman should always hide out in the bathroom of a public venue for various highly practical reasons.

De Niro explains his ‘top tips’ in the most matter of fact ways before – on-screen – being seen to blow the brains out of hit within seconds of clapping eyes on him.

Zaillian might have reduced the whopping duration if the phrase ‘cocksucker’ wasn’t spoken every few minutes.

Aside from the mainline acting talent, I want to chuck in a mention of supporting actor Stephen Graham. He has proven his worth in many British movies and TV programmes, but it’s the mark of a performer that cast alongside such established, stellar talent as we have here and still appear totally comfortable and at ease with them.

What a guy.

Netflix subscribers can watch The Irishman online.

Cast & credits

Director: Martin Scorsese. 3 hr 29 min/209 min. Tribeca Productions/Sikelia Productions/Winkler Films. (15).

Producers: Gerald Chamales, Robert De Niro, Randall Emmett, Gabriele Israilovici, Gastón Pavlovich, Jane Rosenthal, Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler.
Writer: Steven Zaillian.
Camera: Rodrigo Prieto.
Music: Robbie Robertson.
Sets: Bob Shaw.

Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Ramano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jack Huston.


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