The Irishman lives up to Scorsese’s best and delivers even more, with an epic, emotional and riveting tale that rivals his best work.
The film sees former mob hitman man Frank Sheeran recalling his life and specifically his complicated relationship with mafia boss Russell Bufalino and his involvement with the downfall of Jimmy Hoffa.
After decades of filmmaking, and in particular perfecting the gangster genre, Scorsese has managed to outdo himself in one of the most thought-provoking and beautiful films not only of his filmography, but perhaps of the decade. Scene after scene, the director’s usual trademarks pass you by with delight; but it isn’t until around the beginning of the third act where the meaning of the film dawns of you, a melancholic message of nostalgia, grief, and regret that comes to a close with an emotional punch. It can be discussed whether every minute of its runtime is earned, but there’s a strange feeling I got where, despite the sprawling story and often pointless scenes for the bigger picture, I wouldn’t cut anything. In the end, all the elements come together beautifully.
The Irishman ultimately does succeed thanks to the monumental talent put to the task on adapting the famous novel. Rodrigo Prieto is a standout as the cinematographer, as is also Thelma Schoonmaker as the editor, who seamlessly puts together the film and helps pace the film to a perfection.
It is almost ridiculous to point out, but of course, the cast is spectacular. Robert De Niro plays the titular character in a subdued portrayal that often conveys through silence more than from dialogue, and it is in particular effect when the film is close to ending. But it’s Joe Pesci and Al Pacino who deliver the best performances they’ve given in more than two decades. Pesci is, as De Niro, portraying a quiet character, but one that oozes confidence and commands attention and respect without needing to say it. It’s a much more subtle performance than what one is used to from Pesci, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. As for Pacino, he’s the contrary; he gives a loud and unapologetic performance that holds no punches and serves as a nice counterpoint to both Pesci and De Niro. Not to be overlooked is Anna Paquin, who, in her few minutes of screen time and minimal dialogue, gets to shine with a surprisingly powerful performance.
It’s hard to find any flaws with The Irishman. It may suffer from a long runtime and the special effects might not be perfect, but Steven Zailian has written such an engrossing and unpretentious screenplay, combined with the delicate direction by Scorsese, that it’s a film that dazzles at every turn and flows sensitively. You can almost feel that Scorsese, even with all his filmography, has grown into a more mature director than he even was a film back. It’s a notable direction by a veteran and a steady hand with insight so different from his previous gangster films that it not only makes it one of the best of the year, but it holds a special place in the closing decade as a fascinating and epic film about the passage of time.