16th Oct2019

‘The Irishman’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Dascha Polanco, Jack Huston, Domenick Lombardozzi, Aleksa Palladino, Kathrine Narducci, Ray Romano, Sebastian Maniscalco | Written by Steven Zaillian | Directed by Martin Scorsese


Scorsese takes a genre he owns, slows it down and asks us all to take a closer look at it. He shows us not only the power of this genre but the power of cinema altogether, creating yet another masterpiece in his glorious career. In a career defining film, Scorsese brings together everything the American director has learnt, everything he’s mastered and everything he’s become know for. He brings together everything we’ve come to love and proves once again why he’s one of the best directors that’s ever lived.

Based on the book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’, The Irishman tells the true story of Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who recalls his possible involvement with the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.

Set over the life span of 60 years, we get to be immersed into the life of the mobster once again. As so many times before, it’s from a director who has seen and lived with men that were involved in the mob. It’s the only way Scorsese can capture the real life characters that burst and explode onto screen with such colourful life. It’s these real characters combined with the story telling and editing that first draw us into this world. Before we know it we are in the very streets of New York, in every corner and alley, right along side our characters. It’s what Scorsese has become the master at, drawing us into the world of the film, showing us the rules of the world and letting us, the audience, become a member of the world, not just an observer.

It’s in these characters and the supporting cast that play them, where we laugh, hate and love. As with all classics the supporting cast has been perfectly chosen as if they were born to play these roles, no matter how small. Standouts include Stephen Graham, who continues to prove he’s one of the best working actors in the world, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano and Louis Cancelmi. But it’s within the three leads that the characters come to life more than ever. De Niro is subtle, Pacino electric and Pesci is magical. It shows there’s life in these three legends yet, and is undoubtedly their best performance in years.

Joe Pesci is in control of every room he walks into, projecting intimidation, yet respect and grace, that of a mob boss who knows every move. He’s no longer that crazy gangster as he was in Goodfella’s, he’s the boss now and he takes command of every scene like his character takes control of the mob world itself. It’s not a loud performance, it’s grand, allowing others to shine as he sits back and oozes power.

Then in the films main supporting role is Al Pacino, who is as electric, eccentric, and over the top as ever – in the best way possible. He digs his nails into Jimmy Hoffa’s skin, taking his place and chewing up every piece of scenery he can get his hands on. It’s everything we love about Pacino, it’s everything his power and presence can muster up and it’s better than anything you’ve seen in this decade.

Finally in The Irishman‘s lead role sits Robert De Niro. The Oscar winning actor gives yet another Oscar worthy performance. It’s De Niro who gives the best performance and with the incredible performances he’s stood next to, it really is perhaps his greatest achievement. De Niro lets Frank reflect on every life choice, look back with the sadness of a man who had the burden of time, of loyalty and responsibility. It’s within his eyes, within his quieter moments, and in what De Niro choices not to do, instead of what he does. It’s the performance that only an actor of De Niro’s stature and experience can give, one who has grown into a man, and grown past it. This is the story of a mans life, of him looking back and seeing how sad he has become from the choices he made. The answers aren’t given to us in his performances, they’re there for us to uncover and talk about for years to come. In doing so it’s a performance we will no doubt talk about for generations.

The Irishman‘s characters and actors playing them are no doubt the main draw for audiences around the world. The main turn away would be the films run time of 209 minutes, but it’s here, with the films runtime, the film delivers another stroke of mastery. It’s the secret weapon Scorsese has kept up his sleeve for the last 40 years, and that weapon is editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker is Martin Scorsese’s long time editor, she’s worked on every one of his films since his 1980’s Raging Bull, and it’s here that she yet again proves why she is no doubt the greatest editor in the history of cinema. It’s the pacing that gets set by her that allows the film to blitz past at a thunderous pace. Before you know it you’re nearing the final act of the film. As we finally reach the climax, the editing allows the film to never lose its composure and maintain our engagement, our eyes and our hearts until the films final shot. Through the editing the film never drags nor drops, it has surely secured Schoonmaker’s 4th Oscar. All this mixed with the script and the non linear structure of the film, it never loses us and keeps us in the world of these characters for every minute and when it’s finally over we still don’t want to leave.

The Irishman ends up being Martin Scorsese swan song, his latest masterpiece among so many other masterpieces. His work of art that showcases every stroke of genius in his body. Using the most powerful tools he’s accumulated over the last 5 decades and unleashing them into one 209 minute piece of cinema. Once again he shows American cinema at its most powerful, showcasing the morally complex characters the world has to offer. As the decade comes to an end we get the best film it has to offer. From the greatest director of his generation, comes a true masterpiece of our time.

***** 5/5

The Irishman comes to select cinemas in November before hitting Netflix on November 27th.


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