Pennsylvania, 1956. Frank Sheeran, a war veteran of Irish origin who works as a truck driver, accidentally meets mobster Russell Bufalino. Once became his trusted man, Bufalino sends Frank to Chicago with the task of helping Jimmy Hoffa, a powerful union leader related to organized crime, with whom Frank will maintain a close friendship for nearly twenty years.
ActorsStarring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Kathrine Narducci, Welker White, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Domenick Lombardozzi, Paul Herman, Louis Cancelmi, Gary Basaraba, Marin Ireland, Sebastian Maniscalco, Steven Van Zandt, Lucy Gallina, Jonathan Morris, Dascha Polanco, Bo Dietl, Aleksa Palladino, Jim Norton, Daniel Jenkins, Billy Smith, Kevin O'Rourke, Action Bronson, Glenn Cunningham, Paul Ben-Victor, Patrick Gallo, James Martin, Jake Hoffman, Barry Primus, Danny A. Abeckaser, Anthony J. Gallo, J.C. MacKenzie, Joseph Bono, Jamil Antonio Stefan, Louis Vanaria, Craig Vincent, John Polce, Joseph Riccobene, Vinny Vella, Thomas E. Sullivan, John Cenatiempo, Robert Mladinich, Rich Reilly, Robert Funaro, Tess Price, Jennifer Mudge, India Ennenga, Jordyn DiNatale, Kate Arrington, Bernie Martin, Philip Suriano, Tony Suriano, Jason A. Iannacone, Michael C. Brennan, James P. Harkins, Al Linea, Garry Pastore, Frank Pietrangolare, Frank Aquilino, Johnny T. Sollitto, Patrick Murney, Samantha Soule, Richard V. Licata, Vito Picone, Larry Mazza, Craig DiFrancia, Ira Drukier, Jon Bruno, Paul Borghese, Steven Maglio, James Licata, Veronica Alicino, Mike Massimino, James Ciccone, Ron Castellano, Marco Greco, Meghan Rafferty, Aldo Sergi, James Lorinz, Jeffrey Paul, Robert C. Kirk, Vincent Maritato, Lawrence Smith, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Ken Wulf Clark, John Rue, Steve Routman, Fernando Vera, Peter Claymore, Charles DelGatto, Michael Gongora, Eugene Bunge, Matthew F. O'Connor, Cliff Moylan, Vincenzo DelRiccio, Steve Beauchamp, Alfred Sauchelli Jr., Joe Giorgio, Diana Agostini, Lauren Aparicio, Kelley Rae O'Donnell, John Garrett Greer, Jack Caruso, John Scurti, Thomas J. Jenkins, Steve Witting, Luke Smith, Brent Langdon, James D. Forsha, Giacomino J. Matra, Paul Pearlman, Frank L. Messina, Cilda Shaur, Dominick LaRuffa Jr., Erick Zamora, Joe Caniano, Lou Martini Jr., Michael Bottari, John Bianco, Margaret Anne Florence, Siena Marino, Lori Arkin, Nicholas Chrysan, Samantha Coppola, Logan Crawford, Jeff DeHart, Mark Fairchild, Blaise Corrigan, Jill Brown, Tim Neff, Matt Walton, Peter J. Fernandez, Stephen Mailer, Gino Cafarelli, Robin Kerbis, Lucia Giannetta, Michael Romeo Ruocco, Anne Horak, Nina Lafarga, Clark Carmichael, Joseph Russo, Jeremy Luke, Barbara Eyland, Tracy J. Everitt, Saint Marino, Mario Corry, Johnny Potenza, Joe Passaro, Patrick Borriello, Alfred Nittoli, David Aaron Baker, Stanley Burns
A movie poster headlining Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci means you instantly know you are in for a mobster movie. How different from other mafia movies it is though. Instead of a thrill ride or glorification, we experience the mundanity, if you will, of everyday violence, murder, extortion, bribery, fraud and a variety of other felonies through the eyes and memories of the Irishman. A character study reflecting on life and loyalties, loss and loneliness, and pain and penance.
Robert de Niro plays Frank Sheeran – the Irishman – who becomes a mob enforcer and ‘handyman’ who amongst others paints houses, and even does his own carpentry too. (As we learn in the opening scenes, ‘painting houses’ is a mob euphemism for killing someone – gruesomely enough for the victim’s blood to splatter over the walls – thus painting them red.) Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) takes Frank under his wings and at some point introduces him to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), who heads up the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labour union and has become a target, requiring protection. Frank proves his loyalty to both Russell and Jimmy over some three decades, until the time comes where Russell and Jimmy don’t see eye to eye anymore.
The movie uses an interesting storytelling mechanism – the overall arc starts and ends with Frank Sheeran towards the end of his days telling his story to an unseen visitor; his story is built around a long drive he took with Russel and both their wives, up to a wedding in Detroit. This in turn forms the umbrella for the story spanning several decades. At the end, these different levels of storytelling come back together in Frank’s latter days, as he reflects on his life choices and loyalties.
The acting, as you may expect with names like these, is great. The stand-out for me is Joe Pesci, who is just fantastic here. He came out of his 20 year retirement for this movie, and it was worth it – he deserves at least an Oscar nod for best supporting actor. The other outstanding performance is that of the editor – Thelma Schoonmaker. This movie has a running time of three and a half hours, is slow, deliberate and pensive, yet the pace flows well throughout and the transitions between arcs and timelines are so seamless and natural that you don’t even realise you spent almost half a working day watching this film.
Not everything is perfect though if I may niggle. As the story jumps across decades, ‘de-aging technology’ is deployed to make various characters look up to some 30 or 40 years younger. It generally works very well and it is very impressive, yet at the same time it is not quite natural and thereby somewhat distracts from the story here and there. There is also one particular scene that you will instantly pick out if you watch the movie, where a ‘young’ De Niro kicks a shop owner, but the moves are clearly those of a 75 year old man doing the kicking – they should have used a body double for that one. More distracting in particular for me was changing De Niro’s eye colour from brown to blue; there are various scenes where his eyes look so odd that I wondered if he was wearing blue contacts – as his pupils didn’t seem to be naturally dilated but fixed at a certain size. It bugged me enough to actually stop the movie once to try and figure out what was going on with this de-aging and eye colouring, which of course takes you out of the movie even more. But on the positive side: this is on Netflix, so you can simply ‘rewind’ a few minutes and get back into it.
There has been a bit of noise around Scorsese’s recent comments on the success of Marvel movies that ‘they are not cinema’ as they are in his eyes more akin to theme parks full of special effects but lack the real emotion or psychology required to be considered ‘cinema’. I don’t completely agree with him on that, and it is a bit ironic that the one distracting flaw I experienced in his latest movie is his use of special effects… but I don’t think anyone will say that The Irishman is not cinema. Full of human psychology as per his own definition, it absolutely is.
A recommended watch.