When Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro come together you are guaranteed a masterpiece. Their first outing Mean Streets, the film in which a supporting De Niro as Johnny Boy showed the world that he was a star. Taxi Driver is Marty at his finest as his subtle direction makes Travis Bickle’s descent into madness a story for the ages. Raging Bull is the film where De Niro gives the best performance of all time. His commitment to the animalistic nature of Jake LaMotta will give you chills every time you watch it. The King of Comedy is criminally overlooked considering how influential it is. There would be no Joker without it. Goodfellas is when Scorsese perfected his beloved crime genre. You won’t ever find a better gangster film. Cape Fear sees both Scorsese and De Niro step away from their usual realistic approach as they both go out of their comfort zone in a film made to be watched in group settings. Even their last outing in 1995’s Casino seen them making the best Vegas film ever, an impressive feat considering how many classics there are.
Out of thes, it’s an impossible task to pick a favourite. We often take for granted just how magical these two are together. Before catching their reunion it’s important to go back and re-visit all these classics. Thankfully The Irishman is another classic, worthy of standing alongside their previous work.
Based on Charles Brandt’s novel I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman tells the life story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro). Prior to its release much was said about the film’s runtime of three and a half hours. Yet as the movie spans the course of Sheeran in his 20s to his elderly years every single minute of the runtime feels vital to the story. Despite this being a return to his beloved crime genre, The Irishman is a subtle character study rather than a gun blaring epic. Having a film where the veteran director dials down the insanity in favour of a slow burn approach is perfect. Every single decision a character makes holds weight. If someone is insulted in the first half hour of the movie you better believe they’ll remember it in hour three.
The film almost feels as if it is three movies mixed into one. The first being the rise of Sheeran. De Niro, who thanks to ground-breaking de-aging technology feels as if he has been brought to 2019’s cinemas in a time machine, is charismatic with the naivety of a man who is new to the higher levels of crime. An early sequence involving stealing and reselling meat gives an insight into how both calculated Sheehan is yet also inexperienced.
Upon meeting Russell Bufalino (other Scorsese regular Joe Pesci) Sheeran realises that he has much to learn about being a criminal. The main takeaway from the first hour of the film is how great it is to have Joe Pesci back on our screens. Following his early retirement fans have begged for the legend to return to film. Considering that this is only his fourth project this century, it’s astounding to see that he hasn’t lost a beat.
Pesci’s Russell Bufalino is another example of why the actor is considered one of the world’s finest supporting players. Russell is like Tommy in Goodfellas (the role which nabbed Pesci an Oscar), but without the hot-headedness that would prove costly. Russell is well respected by everyone in the film. His word means more than a thousand men’s. Still an effortlessly commanding presence, Pesci hasn’t lost his comedic flair either during his stint away from the spotlight. His attempts to bond with Sheehan’s youngest daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin) are hilarious. Getting the trinity of De Niro, Pesci and Scorsese back together is what dreams are made of. However, it’s another legend who steals the show.
If the first act of The Irishman is all about getting the band back together again, then the second act is the Al Pacino show. Pacino and Scorsese have managed to go the entirety of their careers without making a movie together, until now. Pacino plays Jimmy Hoffa who was President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union for fourteen years.
Pacino is volcanic as Jimmy Hoffa. It’s a return to glory for an actor that has had a woeful twilight phase of his career. Pacino’s Hoffa is a live wire, bustling with the electricity that made him a star all those years ago. Seeing Pacino and De Niro team up is often breathtaking (see Michael Mann’s Heat for proof). Here they bounce off each other with ease, making the perfect duo. Hoffa is the mouth, Sheeran is the body.
With Sheeran ‘painting houses’ for Hoffa the film enters its stride. There are long scenes during this phase of the movie that scream classic Scorsese. A meeting between Hoffa and Anthony Provenzano (Stephen Graham, previously directed by Scorsese in Boardwalk Empire) is the best scene of the year. Liverpool’s Graham goes toe-to-toe with the mighty Pacino and matches him in a scene that cements him as a star. Graham may very well be someone to take over the legacy of De Niro and Pacino.
Without giving anything away the final half-hour of The Irishman is utterly devastating. Following three hours of criminal activities and character battles the finale of the film dials the speed down and focuses on the effects your choices have on your life. De Niro delivers some of the finest work of his career as his performance turns into one fuelled on reflection. The actor is stoic nearly the whole way through so to see him open up as the movie reaches its conclusion is heartbreaking. Scorsese’s gangster flicks aren’t exactly known for their nuance, and seeing the director try something new at 76 years of age is a testament to how he’s always evolving as a filmmaker. Even if his directing style is changing having his trusted friend De Niro by his side is the perfect ingredient for a masterpiece.
Scorsese’s choices are bold from start to finish. Having the idea to de-age his cast for most of the film is an insane decision, yet it pays off. A huge worry heading into the screening would be that it would feel like watching a video game cut-scene. That’s never the case. The technology used is astonishing and opens doorways for future films that are mind-boggling to think of.
To say that Scorsese’s direction is phenomenal is a statement that has been made time and time again. So, let’s make that statement again for old time’s sake. Scorsese’s direction in The Irishman is phenomenal. A car journey from one location to another and back is shown in its entirety. Many would choose to cut from the car leaving to the car arriving, but that’s not good enough for Marty. Scorsese uses a car journey to showcase the daily conversations that would happen between criminals and it’s glorious. With Steven Zallian’s flawless script and Robbie Robertson’s pitch-perfect score by his side, Martin Scorsese has delivered another classic. If he isn’t collecting his second Oscar next year then there is a big problem in Hollywood.
The Irishman is a reminder of why legends are considered legends. Robert De Niro is perfect in this movie. Al Pacino is perfect in this movie. Joe Pesci is perfect in this movie. Martin Scorsese is perfect in this movie. It’s as simple as that. When you give legendary actors and a director a platform to deliver a film that they’ve wanted to make for decades, they will deliver. Say what you want about Netflix, but there is no denying that they are taking risks that studios outside of A24 and Neon are refusing to make. While there is a place for big monopoly franchises, there is no denying that they crowding out genre films. When you see how amazing The Irishman is, it’s hard to not to question that maybe The MCU is the worst thing to happen to cinema.