Published on November 30th, 2019 | by Craig Silliphant


The Irishman

There’s been a lot of talk about Scorsese lately, and hype for his latest gangster film, The Irishman.  Does it live up to the hype? 

The Irishman feels like the dying breath of a man looking back on his triumphs and failures. Literally, in terms of the main character, but also the tone of the movie itself.  Some of this doesn’t reveal itself until the final act, but between the pacing and where the story ends up, it feels like it was made by someone with one foot in the grave. Hopefully that isn’t the case, and director Martin Scorsese will live for years and grace us with many more cinematic masterpieces. But this is probably the last time we’ll get Scorsese, De Niro, and Pesci (who came out of retirement to do The Irishman) all together to throw down their particular brand of gangster movie.

The Irishman is based on the life of Frank Sheeran, a World War II veteran who gets an introduction to a high-ranking gangster, gains his trust and mentorship, and is then introduced to the head of the Teamsters Union, Jimmy Hoffa. He starts to work for Hoffa, but a rift opens up between Hoffa and the mob.  Of course, history tells us that Hoffa disappeared in 1975, so we know we’re heading for all kinds of delicious betrayals and mafia shenanigans.

No matter what we say about the rest of the film, it felt great to see these guys together again.  Pesci is as far as he can get from his foul-mouthed, yapping dog character, but he’s fascinating to watch, even in his slow, quiet movements and low voice.  It’s hard for guys like Pacino and De Niro to get roles anymore, so props to Netflix for making fare like this. Even if you end up not liking the movie, you should still support the idea that it could be made, because these are dire times for thoughtful fare like this.

While I think there’s plenty to be found within the movie, its dwindling, twilight pace (with a three-and-a-half-hour runtime) is not exactly going to endear it to the current generation of movie buffs, raised on shiny, high-octane Marvel movies. We live in a weird world now, where people who haven’t seen “that Scorsese guy’s” movies don’t realize the irony that their favourite movie, Joker, is a cheap rip off of Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy.  (That said, I’m not all in on Scorsese’s elitist comments about Marvel movies either).

Much has been made of the runtime of the film, with people trading arguments about whether you can watch movies in multiple parts (and asking why you can binge 12 hours of Stranger Things in one sitting, but you can’t watch a three-and-a-half-hour film).  I dare say that The Irishman might have been better served had it been edited into three parts, a mini-series format.  But then they couldn’t call it, “the new Scorsese movie,” I guess.  My full and blasphemous admission is that I watched it in two sittings. Hey, I have kids, a job, and a ton of freelance, man.

The real question though — was its long runtime justified?

Well, there’s a lot of story to get through, so sure, I’ll give him that.  In fact, there are many characters who come and go so quickly that you can’t help but feel the movie could have spent more time on some of them for context.  Faces like Harvey Keitel’s flash on the screen and are gone.  But to me, the question isn’t the length — it’s the pacing.

The Irishman is pretty deliberately paced at times.  I think you can see the master at work, and certain sequences feel like classic Scorsese gangster moments, but the movie is nowhere near the charismatic electricity of Goodfellas or Casino. Even in the last act, when we’re seeing the classic montage of murders and other happenings, it unfolds in the same way, but it’s set to slow, quiet cellos instead of a raucous Stones track. It’s like getting wacked by God, of old age.

“He’s Dead,” the FBI agent tells Sheeran, about an old acquaintance.

“Who did it?” Sheeran asks.

“Cancer,”  replies the fed.

It’s a funny moment in the movie, but it also says a lot about the film, which turns in the later act to become preoccupied with the spectre of death.  Speaking of death and aging, I should quickly mention the aging and de-aging effects, which I thought were pretty good.  I didn’t notice too much that looked off, and it really did help sell the scope of the story and the years passing.

It’s hard to not compare The Irishman to the beforementioned Casino and Goodfellas. It actually felt more like Danny DeVito’s Hoffa, which starred Jack Nicholson as the head Teamster.  While The Irishman is an assured film, crafted under the matured hand of one of the best directors of all time, it lacks a lot of the frenetic excitement and danger of those two giants of cinema.

I don’t think The Irishman will live up to the hype for most, myself included, but I liked it, and I will no doubt get more from its dense story upon repeat viewings. I will also probably identify with the characters and story more as the pale rider on the horse gets closer to coming for me. So, perhaps in a nursing home someday, I’ll sit up and declare, “Oh!  I get it now! This movie is brilliant!”

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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