It’s the Avengers of the mob world (sorry, couldn’t help myself). The timeless team up of Scorsese, DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci are back for their next gangster epic. An adaptation of the book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ and real life story of Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran, A war veteran who later weaved his way into the organised crime syndicate.
With so many big names tied to the project, it was unlikely that it wouldn’t come with a huge level of expectation, especially given what these men have already done for the genre time and time again within their wildly successful careers, respectfully.
Right off the bat you sense The Irishman is going to be a slow burner. With an optimistic (and rather unnecessary) runtime of 3 and a half hours, Scorsese was going to seep every little detail and worthwhile plot point from the source material and wring it out until there’s nothing left to say. There’s a solid half hour, at least, that could be cut or certainly wrapped up in a more timely fashion. It’s a huge script and in most parts, it’s going to feel every minute of its runtime. Having said that, one of the films more memorable moments is a scene in which we get to witness De Niro and Jesse Plemons talk about a fish. Not sure if putting that down as a highlight feels like a massive f**k you for sitting through such a long movie, but it’s one of the few humorous scenes in an otherwise serious drama.
It’s Scorsese’ eye for the details, certainly in the way he shoots his pictures, that’s most commendable here. The whole thing looks incredible, and if going on the basis of its visual appearance alone, The Irishman is one of the most impressive films of 2019.
Thankfully, it’s not just relying on its stylistic flare. DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci act to the high level of standard that skyrocketed their careers some 50 years ago. Watching these powerhouse performers working with someone who will get the best out of each of them, is what fans have been dying to see.
In a counterpoint to that however, there are instances in which (mainly during the more gritty elements) age plays a distracting part. One scene in particular sees De Niro face off against a clerk. 30 something years ago we’d be hailing this as the defining moment of the whole movie, but he looks tired and his slow movements are a perfect embodiment of its progression since its opening act.
De-aging effects are now becoming a hot topic within the industry. Many directors have already turned to this technique to add a sense of heightened realism. As of yet, no one has been able to demonstrate its visual impact quite as well as Scorsese. It’s far more polished and well utilised. For those planning to use this for future projects, The Irishman should become the starting point for inspiration.
Now, if I were to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what Scorsese achieved here that he didn’t already with Goodfellas. The first gangster movie to really rival Coppola’s Godfather. In fact, when you break it down, it follows most of the same tropes, certainly in terms of the way the story is presented. If you like your movies with a more intricate, well characterised build up then you’re less likely to fall into what’s quickly become the minority for viewers like myself. If you like your crime dramas with a bit more punch and the ability to get to the point without either rushing, or agonisingly beating around the bush, then you’re better off just rewatching Goodfellas.
In light of Scorsese’ remarks towards Marvel’s cinematic takeover, hailing them as ‘theme park movies’, it’s understandable that he’s opted to do something which certainly is not. But if you were to put it in that bracket, then what we have here is the merry-go-round. Elegant, old fashioned and nice to look at, but slow, doesn’t cater to everyone and once you’ve ridden it, it’s unlikely you’ll go back for some time.