Tuesday, September 21, 2021

#2,619. The Irishman (2019)


It seems that nothing can slow Martin Scorsese down. Almost 50 years after turning Mean Streets loose on the movie-going public, the great director offers yet another glimpse into the world of organized crime, and 2019’s The Irishman is every bit as masterful as Mean Streets, Casino, The Departed, and, yes, even Goodfellas.

Robert De Niro stars as Frank Sheeran, a Philadelphia truck driver who, after befriending mobster Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci), became a major force in organized crime, gaining a reputation as a guy that “painted houses” (i.e. – killed those who needed killing).

Buffalino eventually introduced Frank to Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and over the years Sheeran and Hoffa became close friends. But when Hoffa started feuding with other Teamsters officials, most notably his associate Tony Pro (Stephen Graham), it sent shock waves through the underworld, with Frank Sheeran caught in the middle of it all.

Scorsese has assembled a dream cast for The Irishman, starting with his old pals DeNiro (who shines as Frank Sheeran, the Irishman of the title and also the film’s narrator), Pesci (as the calm and collected Buffalino, a far cry from his Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas), and Harvey Keitel (appearing in several scenes as Angelo Bruno, the mob boss of Philadelphia).

Also present are Stephen Graham and Bobby Cannavale, both of whom had major roles in the Scorsese-produced series Boardwalk Empire; comedian Ray Romano as Bill Buffalino, Russell’s cousin and a lawyer for the mob; and Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s estranged daughter, Peggy. The standout performance, however, is delivered by Al Pacino as the impulsive Hoffa, whose short fuse consistently lands him in hot water. Even in prison, he couldn’t keep his anger in check, getting into a scrum at one point with Tony Pro in the mess hall.

And then there’s Scorsese himself, employing every trick he’s learned over the years to ensure this nearly 4-hour movie flows brilliantly, feeling less than half that long. As with most Scorsese crime films, The Irishman is often violent, sometimes jarringly so (there’s rarely any warning when Sheeran carries out a hit), and the film has an epic feel to it, with such historic events as World War II, The Bay of Pigs, and the assassination of President Kennedy occasionally playing into the story.

Yet The Irishman also differs from the likes of Goodfellas and Casino in that it follows its characters into old age, showing us how they dealt with their past transgressions when approaching the end of the line. In one late scene, Frank Sheeran shops for his own coffin. Perhaps it’s a natural progression for Scorsese, himself a few years shy of 80 when he directed this 2019 movie.

Yet even with The Irishman being a bit more reflective than Goodfellas, it’s also just as magnificent, and while some filmmakers might lose their edge when they get older, Martin Scorsese has proven with both The Wolf of Wall Street and this movie that he’s only getting sharper.
Rating: 10 out of 10

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