Quick thing about Martin Scorsese before this review. Look, we all know that he said Marvel movies aren’t cinema. I just want to address this now so that I don’t have to talk about again in this review. Scorsese can think whatever he wants, it doesn’t change viewer perception. Despite all of Scorsese’s experience he isn’t the leading voice in cinema. He doesn’t get the final say, the audience does. Also about his argument of these movies blocking of other types of film, I don’t know if that’s true. I feel like I’ve been able to see more indie and arthouse theaters that I have ever been able to before. It’s also weird that he would say this while promoting the film for Netflix, a company that hates many theater chains with that said, Martin Scorsese doesn’t have to like any movie. He can think what he wants to think, it doesn’t make a difference.
I wasn’t really looking forward to The Irishman when it was initially announced. Not that I thought it looked bad, it just didn’t really catch my attention. Then right before I saw it theaters, I went back to one of my favorite Scorsese pictures, Goodfellas. I was quickly reminded of how good he can do gangster movies and I was excited. I did think that some of the deaging CGI in the trailer looked off, but I was willing to accept that. Well, I’ve seen the movie, I’m here writing my review three beers in and I have to say that I’m extremely conflicted. There are parts of the movie that I liked, but there were also many moments where the movie frustrated me. I feel like there’s something wrong with me with the recent reception of this movie. Critics fucking love this movie, yet I don’t love this movie. If I’m being honest, I dislike this movie.
The Irishman follows the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and his ties to Russel Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The film’s main purpose is to just follow Sheeran’s life up to the point where he claims to have killed Jimmy Hoffa.
First, the positives. This movie was fucking beautifully directed and well edited. Some of the shots are amazingly constructed and the way they were cut together was breathtaking at times. Also the acting in this movie is amazing. Joe Pesci came out of retirement for this film and thank god he did, his performance is the best in the film. Pesci has became well known for playing different versions of himself and I guess the same is true here, but there is a subtle stoic countenance to him still that makes your fear him. The film never really shows him do anything violent, but you know he is because of the presents he commands. Al Pacino is also great as Jimmy Hoffa and he’s definitely made a name for playing him here, there were times where I didn’t see Pacino, I saw Hoffa. I’m not joking, there was a point where I forgot he was in this movie and he was right on camera. Now, that’s a good performance. Weirdly enough, Robert De Niro was the weakest actor of the film. This isn’t really a complaint, he still does give a good performance but his character can feel like a conduit to just experience this world at times. Compared to the work of Pesci and Pacino it’s clearly the weakest. Robert De Niro does have some really good moments towards the end. Also despite some strange framing choices, Steven Zaillian’s script contains some powerful moments and strong dialogue.
First, the de-aging technology used in this film. It looks great, when it’s not on Robert De Niro. I don’t know why this is, maybe because it was his young face on his old body, but it always looked slightly off. This was especially the case when he was walking or beating someone up. For all the other actors I thought it looked fine, especially Joe Pesci. Maybe it’s because Joe Pesci’s wrinkles made it easier to hide the CGI shade, while it was really obvious on Robert De Niro’s smooth face. It’s nothing terrible and you’ll probably get use to it. You won’t get use to this film’s runtime though.
If you don’t already know this movie runs at two hundred and nine minutes! Thats close to three and a half hours. I’m a pretty patient man and I can sit through a lot, but this movie’s length frustrated me. It made a lot of the film’s problems worse. My take was to have the movie drag on to make it feel like Sheeran’s entire lifetime was passing in front of your eyes. This is something that Scorsese did with his previous film, Silence, where he would drag the film to make the passage of time feel real. As if we watched the characters life fly by, in this we get what feels like endless montages where we are given the same information over and over again. How many times do I need to be told that Jimmy Hoffa went through many trials? According to this movie, a fuck ton. When you get down to it, huge chunks of this movie could’ve been easily cut. I think even the average viewer can identify parts that could’ve been taken out. I’m actually a little upset that critics aren’t complaining about this yet they complained about the runtimes of Doctor Sleep and It Chapter Two. I know those movies are long, but when I think about them there isn’t part of them that I think you can easily cut out, at least not without majorly restructuring the films. The Irishman is much longer and there are parts that you can easily take out. Seriously, a huge chunk of this movie just felt like montage. Also with the other movies mentioned before, those still had lots of excitement throughout, especially Doctor Sleep (please go see Doctor Sleep, it should be making more money than it is). The Irishman can be straight out boring at times. One of the story’s framing devices could’ve been taken out without anyone noticing. The movie starts off with Sheeran in an old folks home where he is telling his life story to the audience, it then cuts back to a road trip, and then back to his youth. Why did we need to start off in the old folks home? Was it so we could establish the fourth wall breaking narration that’s similar to what was in Goodfellas? Probably. I guess you could argue that it could add some uncertainty to the film’s narrative. Is Sheeran a reliable narrator? I can say that you probably won’t be asking those questions because it feels like the movie forgets about this narration at times. Even when it does come in, it doesn’t really add that much. We are already seeing everything. When it comes to the runtime it’s hard not to feel like critics are giving Martin Scorsese a pass just because he’s Martin Scorsese.
As I was watching this movie I realized something, and this thing only got worse thanks to the runtime. It felt like this movie had no point. It felt like it was about Sheeran’s and Bufalino relationship at the start of the film. When Sheeran moves onto Hoffa it feels like they forgot that Bufalino exists. Also the Sheeran and Hoffa camaraderie feels artificial because it’s shown mostly in montage, while with Sheeran and Bufalino we got scenes dedicated to their personal growth together. Obviously it shifts to Hoffa because of his mysterious real life disappearance and when it gets to that point in the story it can get sad. Watching Sheeran grow old adds to that sorrowful theme as well. But after watching the movie, I can’t really say what it’s about beyond, “It’s that movie with those real life mafia people.”
I feel strange talking negatively about this movie. At the moment of writing, it’s sitting at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and the audience have generally liked the film. Though with it’s extremely limited release due to it being a Netflix Original, it’s hard not to think that most of the theater attendance are die hard Scorsese fans. I saw the movie I was extremely disappointed. I can also say that many people in the theater didn’t seem that happy either. I really don’t know if we can say this movie is a success until we see the general response once the movie gets its full release on Netflix. Our editor saw it and told me that he saw in in three sittings throughout one day and it was much more palatable but he agrees that it drags on. This is the style of modern viewership, where you can pick up and leave it whenever you want at your leisure. That being said, this is a movie and movies are generally meant to be watched in one sitting, at least from my experience. I’m in the minority for this movie right now and I hope I still am once it gets its full release. I just don’t think I can really recommend this movie right now because it frankly it didn’t blow me away and that is the standard that Scorsese’s films have set for themselves.