The Irishman is a crime drama that feels like the final segment from three of the genre’s giants, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorcese. A stand alone piece the film feels nostalgic, familiar and almost conclusive of the body of work the three of them have produced in the world of mobsters, power and politics. It’s like a parting gift for the audience to indulge in with them, one last time.
Based on the 2004 memoir I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman dramatizes the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a lowly paid Philadelphia truck driver who moonlighted as a killer for mafia bigwigs Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel). After joining the ranks Frank Sheeran is introduced to James Hoffa (Al Pacino) the American labour union leader who served as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), a familiar but fading name from history who during the 1960/70’s was one of the most powerful men in America.
Frank Sheeran and James Hoffa became allies and seem to have an unbreakable bond of trust and friendship between the two of them. After James Hoffa returns from prison and is desperately trying to get himself reinstated as the head of the unions, he mysteriously goes missing and to this day his disappearance is remains unexplained, although the film provides us with a possible explanation.
It’s through their relationship that we visit the themes of family, friendships and loyalty. Throughout the film as Frank continues to rise through the ranks there is still a begrudging sadness in his life that he doesn’t seem to acknowledge, none of that flair and showing off that the wise guys characteristically displayed in Goodfella’s or Casino, instead there is an undertone of unfulfilled lives and ends.
During the course of the film, we see both Pacino and De Niro de-aged using the latest CGI technology. The film is also ground breaking in the way in which it will be streamed online by Netflix and with a limited cinema release. Due to the ambitions of the epic saga and the CGI requirements it took almost took 15 years to get it financed and it’s only when Netflix came on board the project became a possibility, hence the hybrid release.
What is surprising is that the daunting three and a half hour length of the film is completely earned, unlike some previous films that have skipped the 3 hour mark, I didn’t resent it at all. The film is swift, cinematic and covers a huge amount of history whilst keeping you enthralled throughout.
What Netflix has potentially created is the first film from the streaming platform that could get nominated for the Oscars this year. Scorcese believes that we are now in the midst of cinema re-inventing itself, since the introduction of sound, this may be the next most important time for change, whether that means the definition of what makes a film or how we consume it.
The original conception of what a film is and where it should be seen has now changed so radically. One thing that should always be protected is that cinema should be a communal experience and now homes have theatres too. What streaming means for cinema, I don’t know yet, but that communal experience should be protected. – Scorcese – LFF 2019
As expected there are some great performances to look forward too, Robert De Niro becomes more and more emotionally removed from the choices he makes, continuing to follow orders to the extent that his sense or lack of guilt seem questionable, until nearer the end of the film when we visit him as a dying old man who has been abandoned by his daughters, including Penny Sheeran (Anna Panquin) who fully understands what her father is and his possible links to the disappearance of James Hoffa.
Al Pacino as James Hoffa has some great moments where we see a man of who once had such standing in the world trying to claw his way back up to the top of the unions as younger mob members begin to undermine him. Hoffa refuses to compromise or back down and eventually has to pay for his defiance.
Joe Pesci whose return to the screen has been the most anticipated, replaces the firebrand insanity from his former roles in Goodfella and Casino to a far more still, sinister interpretation for the character of Russell, more suited to a matured mob boss who is fully and entirely in control of his world.
Limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, followed by digital streaming on Netflix on November 27, 2019.