Scorsese’s latest crime epic is as impressive as it is ambitious, worthy of the excitement it generated as soon as the incredible cast, which includes the likes of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, was announced. Although The Irishman is better suited to its natural home of Netflix due to it’s outrageous three and a half hour run time, it is still a gripping experience on the big screen.
The film follows De Niro’s Frank Sheeran, an enforcer for the mob who later becomes the right-hand man and dear friend of Jimmy Hoffa, a corrupt union boss played by Al Pacino. The film jumps between three different stages of Sheeran’s life.
It could be a recipe for disaster, but Scorsese’s brilliance ensures that instead of becoming a car crash, the three-pronged plot intertwines beautifully. Frank’s bloodstained path through his earlier life lends meaning to the physical and emotional torture that he endures later on, whilst an awareness of the tribulations to come ensure that we feel a sense of foreboding as we watch the earlier timeline. It is remarkable how seemingly paradoxical features of mystery as well as foreshadowing effortlessly co-exist due to the wonderfully crafted, ambitious plot.
The Irishman is not a cliché-ridden, bog-standard mob film. Classics like The Godfather were brilliant in the way that they fixated on Shakespearean themes of loyalty, family and tragedy. Whilst his latest film is not worthy of being held in the same regard, it is nonetheless commendable how Scorsese is unafraid of covering everything from the Kennedy assassination to the concept of ageing, death and trauma without straying into melodrama or absurdity.
The performances are truly spectacular, and although some may wince at the use of digital technology to make the veteran cast appear spritely and young, the immersion is never broken. De Niro shines in a sombre role, whilst we are treated to classic Al Pacino outbursts and expertly delivered quips and turns of phrase. Yes, the script is excellent, capable of conveying malice, heartbreak and hilarious dark humour at different moments. Yet it is difficult to envisage any other set of actors delivering them in a way that is so flawless and fitting.
Special attention must be paid to the role of Russel Bufalino, a high-ranking mobster, played by the fantastic Joe Pesci. Perhaps here more than anywhere else, it is clear that Scorsese is determined to create something remarkable and new, not just a reboot of Goodfellas. This is not a typical Pesci performance; there’s no rampaging around and causing needless violence, or cracking side-splitting jokes and bursting into infectious laughter.
Instead, Pesci takes on the role of a cold, calculated man who manages to say a huge amount, inflicting immense pain and torment, whilst barely speaking at all. Scorsese provides the actor an avenue to show his diversity and skill, an opportunity which Pesci seizes with both hands, creating unforgettable moments in the film.
Despite the controversy surrounding its Netflix deal and the potential flaws in its long run time, The Irishman deserves praise and accolades. At the very least, to see Al Pacino, De Niro and Pesci together in a gangster film is an opportunity that cannot be missed for fans of cinema. Yet, Scorsese’s artistic ingenuity shines through in the plot, story and the way in which he captures the brilliance of these legendary individuals, ensuring this is an unmissable spectacle of the highest quality.
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