The Irishman Review: Scorsese Presents Epic Gangster Film on Netflix

With his latest film, The Irishman, visionary director Martin Scorsese is back with arguably his most contemplative and personal work yet.

The $160 million Netflix project is three and a half hours long and charts the rise and mysterious fall of Jimmy Haffa from the perspective of his right-hand man Frank Sheeran, portrayed by the iconoclastic Robert De Niro.

Taking its time, The Irishman is luxurious and overly indulgent. There’s a strong sense of reflection throughout the film and it’s clear that Scorsese is reflecting just as much on his own life as Sheeran, is on his at the beginning of the film from an old age home. As we start with his time working for Joe Pesci’s, Russell Bufalino — a mob boss based in Philly — Sheeran works his way up the chain to become an integral player in the fabric of American history.

Martini Scorsese presents epic gangster film, The Irishman on Netflix.
Martini Scorsese presents epic gangster film, The Irishman on Netflix.

The Irishman Film Review: A Gangster Epic

Written by Steven Zaillian, The Irishman is a meditation on what it means to grow older and having to reckon with the events of our lives as we do. It’s a film about masculinity, fatherhood, loyalty, community and the families we create for ourselves. But it’s also a wickedly entertaining gangster epic – spanning from the early 1950s up until the late 1990s.

De Niro’s Sheeran is what anchors the narrative, flanked on either side by Joe Pesci and Hoffa portrayed by the scene-chewing Al Pacino. We meet Sheeran driving a produce truck in Pennsylvania, living a quiet family life as a veteran of WW2.

After striking up a friendship with Pesci, Sheeran quickly begins taking on odd jobs (see murders) for him and the Mob, becoming one of the few trusted outsiders, as an Irish American. It’s here, after garnering a reputation as a man who follows and executes on orders, that Sheeran catches the attention of Hoffa himself. The film moves around the United States, from Sheeran’s beginning’s in Pennsylvania, onto Florida and as his reputation grows, eventually Detroit as his work with Hoffa intensifies.

Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro offer stellar performances in the Irishman film.
Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro offer stellar performances in the Irishman film.

Anti-aging Hollywood Royalty

One of the most talked-about aspects of the films is the de-aging technology used to make De Niro and Pesci younger versions of their characters. Created by ILM, the same visual effects company behind pretty much every single big-budget film in the last 25 years.

The use of CGI technology is nothing new in Hollywood, but the lifelike nature of this de-aging technology is staggering. Yes, of course, for the first few minutes, it is jarring – seeing the 76-year-old De Niro as a 45-year-old version of himself. But once you accept that fact, the technological trick fades into the background.

In various interviews leading up to the film’s theatrical release on November 6 and streaming release on November 27, Scorsese likened the use of CGI as an evolution of makeup.

“CGI is really an evolution of make-up, you accept certain norms in make-up, you know he’s not that old, she’s not that young, you accept the illusion,” the director said before the premiere of the film at the BFI London Film Festival.

Scorsese went on to note that “If we made the film earlier they could have played younger but at a certain point we missed that and then they said: ‘Use younger actors’ and I said: ‘What’s the point of that?’”

The Irishman Film: A Personal Touch

Another significant talking about The Irishman has nothing really to do with the film at all, but rather Marvel and the state of Hollywood as a whole.

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese said speaking on the topic of Marvel movies. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them as, well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

Now the above answer to a press junket question, along with a few others, sent Twitter film community on fire a few weeks back. In a New York Times opinion piece published last week, Scorsese elaborated on his original comments – and like most films he makes, the questions raised and answers posed, are much more complicated than you think.

In the piece, Scorsese writes that modern-day film franchises, the MCU included, are “Market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.” Scorsese argues that one of the crucial things Marvel films — and by extension the film production machine that churns them out — is missing is an element of risk:

“In the past 20 years, as we all know, the movie business has changed on all fronts. But the most ominous change has happened stealthily and under cover of night: the gradual but steady elimination of risk. Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption,” Scorsese writes.

And it’s here where The Irishman truly shines. It’s a film that’s at once confident in its storytelling power, but deeply self-conscious about what its story says about the people involved in its creation. There’s an emotional risk to be had in every frame and the balancing act of a creative process is evident throughout.

The plot of The Irishman might be relatively straightforward, but the emotional curation through which this story is told is utterly mesmerizing. The lengthy runtime goes by in the blink of an eye and while there are certainly very few capital G good people in The Irishman, Scorsese, and Co have concocted a world where these less reputable characters are given room to live.

The Irishman

A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese's first Netflix film.

Date Created: November 27, 2019

Runtime: 209 min

  • Genres:
  • Drama,
  • Crime,
  • Producers:
  • Martin Scorsese,
  • Robert De Niro,
  • Jane Rosenthal,
  • Emma Tillinger Koskoff,
  • Irwin Winkler,
  • Gerald Chamales,
  • Gastón Pavlovich,
  • Randall Emmett,
  • Gabriele Israilovici,
  • Director:
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Writer:
  • Cast:
  • Al Pacino ,
  • Joe Pesci ,
  • Robert De Niro,
  • Anna Paquin,
  • Bobby Cannavale,
  • Harvey Keitel,
  • Ray Romano,
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