A hot contender for the upcoming awards season, Martin Scorsese’s latest brings together a classic Scorsese film that boasts an epic cast, epic direction and an epic time length of 209 minutes. Despite its long running length, this is a film that demands attention throughout due to its numerous plots and characters that cross and interweave revealing layers of motivations and development. What has made this film so compelling for both audiences and critics alike is how quintessentially Scorsese it is, bringing in old and new faces while still bringing something new to the gangster genre. The film stars Robert De Niro as Frank, a delivery driver turned hitman working for local mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) before ascending the ranks and working for bigtime union owner, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The film also features supporting turns from Ray Romano, Anna Paquin and Stephen Graham, Scorsese goes back to what he does best, exploring the Italian mob underworld with splatters of blood (the alternative title for the film is I Heard you Paint Houses) and excessive language. Scorsese’s popularity has never really diminished but it feels as though The Irishman has resonated with its audience with its brilliant use of nostalgia, mixed with the future in the choice of producing it for streaming titan, Netflix.
Scorsese’s direction is as distinctive as ever. The films flows like the Bible epics he is inspired by and allows the masks of the characters to slip slowly as unexpected alliances are formed and relationships are broken. The Irishman may be a lower age rating in the UK than many other Scorsese offerings but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is anything less. The violence is brutal and there is blood by the bucketload. The key to this film is that The Irishman doesn’t need it and Scorsese knows this. Using present day Frank to reflect on the past gives the film its nostalgia as the audience is looking back at the days of Scorsese’s classic gangster films such as Goodfellas (1990) when they see actors like Pesci and Pacino tapping into what they do so well.
The big guess is predicting who will win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar between Pesci and Pacino. Time will tell whether voters will go for Pacino’s extroverted big time player or Pesci’s subtle plotting locally respected mobster. Either is a deserved winner but if I would have to choose between them, I would probably say Pesci as pulling off such a great performance after a long absence from acting shows his natural talent. Equally, another very real possibility is that voters are split between the two and the award actually goes to Brad Pitt for his impeccable performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. All three are deserving in their own way and I think the Golden Globe will start the trend on which one starts to receive this award at the subsequent shows.
The technical aspects of this film also slot nicely into the Scorsese catalogue with quick-fire editing and a wide scope of locations. Even when the characters are on different sides of the country, it still feels as though the conflicting sides are in neighbouring rooms. One particular scene that I thought was brilliantly shot is when Frank murders a rival in a restaurant. We see him continuously move from the front of the joint to the back, firing his shots before facing his rival on the street at the back and shooting him before escaping in a getaway car.
The Irishman has proved to be Scorsese’s most accomplished film in modern times. Drawing on his strengths and knowing how to push them is expected from someone as experienced. Sure, there could have been more use of female characters as Anna Paquin is sorely underused in this film but this is a story about the 1970s male-dominated Italian American underworld. Contextually, it does make sense and who knows, maybe Martin will make a film in the future with strong female characters and try something new. In the meantime, this is a film that indulges its nostalgia whilst acknowledging its maturity. With this and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story being released on Netflix, it seems that streaming services are the future of film and that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What did you think of The Irishman? Let me know in the comments below!