26th Nov2020

‘The Irishman’ Blu-ray Review (Criterion)

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham | Written by Steven Zaillian | Directed by Martin Scorsese

It’s a strange thing, really, that until I had a chance to check out the new Criterion Blu-ray release of The Irishman, I hadn’t seen it. It had been one of those many films sitting on my “need to watch soon” list, yet I didn’t. Until now. Martin Scorsese has been a director I’ve had great respect for for many years, and I’m a fan of a whole bunch of his movies. Goodfellas, for my money, is the greatest mafia film out there, and other titles, like King of Comedy, Taxi Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street and Shutter Island, are also incredible. The Irishman, then, is one that I was excited to sit down and watch, albeit a year late.

With a phenomenal cast, featuring mafia-film mainstays and Scorsese alumni like Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, The Irishman follows the character Frank Sheeran (De Niro) who, throughout the story, becomes a hitman for a crime family. The movie takes a look at various years in Sheeran’s life, from his early days, his marriage, his initial meeting with Russell Bufalino, head of a Philadelphia crime family and his working with Teamster, Jimmy Hoffa, and into his later days, an old man telling his tale. A tale of Sheeran’s travels into a life of “painting houses”.

A tremendous and fitting soundtrack that is packed with some classic tunes, and breathtaking cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto (who has previously worked with Scorsese as director of photography on The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence), The Irishman looks and sounds the part without a shadow of a doubt. It’s the story, though, and the depth and complexities of the woven tale and the characters within it, that make this a truly special picture. With The Irishman, it feels like Scorsese has come full-circle, creating something heartfelt, poignant and meaningful. You can tell from the sweat in the pores of this film that Scorsese poured his soul into it. It has that tone and feel of Goodfellas, even with the manner in which the film is narrated by the lead character, and it flows perfectly. It’s also wonderful to see Joe Pesci back, as Russell Bufalino. He has that quiet intimidation and all-knowing attitude that makes him feel like he could put one hand forward to pat your shoulder tenderly, whilst using the other hand to shoot you in the back of the head.

Criterion have added a title to their collection, here, that will only become more beloved as time goes on. It’s a long film, that can’t be denied, but there isn’t a moment where I felt it was “too long”. Every beat felt warranted, every spoken word necessary, and that’s the beauty of Scorsese. Nothing’s accidental. Everything has a reason for being on the screen. The Irishman sits alongside Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver as one of his great works, full of the detailed eye and stellar composition we’ve come to expect from one of the greatest directors of our time. The release, though, comes with a whole slew of new features, as listed below.


  • New 4K digital master, approved by director Martin Scorsese, with Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Newly edited roundtable conversation among Scorsese and actors Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, originally recorded in 2019
  • Making “The Irishman,” a new program featuring Scorsese; the lead actors; producers Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Jane Rosenthal, and Irwin Winkler; director of photography Rodrigo Prieto; and others from the cast and crew
  • Gangsters’ Requiem, a new video essay by film critic Farran Smith Nehme about The Irishman’s synthesis of Scorsese’s singular formal style
  • Anatomy of a Scene: “The Irishman,” a 2020 program featuring Scorsese’s analysis of the Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night scene from the film
  • The Evolution of Digital De-aging, a 2019 program on the visual effects created for the film
  • Excerpted interviews with Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran and Teamsters trade-union leader Jimmy Hoffa from 1999 and 1963
  • Trailer and teaser
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien

The special features on this Blu-ray release are nothing short of phenomenal, and that is quite predictable for Criterion who are still one of the very best when it comes to putting out thoughtful, deep and interesting releases. The beautiful 4K restoration aside, the roundtable discussion featuring Scorsese himself, as well as DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci, is wonderful and entertaining. The “Making Of” is insightful stuff that lets us behind the curtain, so to speak, and the other featurettes all offer a unique and interesting element to the release. This is a must for Scorsese fans, a must for those who already love the film, and a must for Criterion collectors. I believe we’ll all look back on The Irishman like we do Goodfellas in a decade or two. It’s that good, and this release showcases that fact. Brilliant.

The Irishman is released on Criterion Collection Blu-ray on November 30th 2020.


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