There are few directors working in Hollywood right now with the prestige of Martin Scorsese. A masterful director, his legacy would have been secured as one of the all-time greats if he’d have stopped making films in around 1982, instead he carried on, now almost into his sixth decade as a filmmaker, he still manages to bring excitement to the heart of even the coldest critics.
He’s responsible for at least three of my favourite films of all time and he’s one of Hollywood’s biggest living legends. Now he’s assembled somewhat of a dream team for this long-gestating mob film.
Marty is no stranger to the criminal underworld (on the big screen I mean) two of his most critically successful films revolve around organised crime: 1990’s Goodfellas and 2006’s The Departed. Not only that, but he’s reuniting with two of his best co-collaborators: Robert DeNiro and the returning-from-retirement Joe Pesci. As well as one new exciting partner; Al Pacino.
It’s also one of the tentpole acquisitions of Netflix, which continues to recruit the cream of the Hollywood crop for its originals lineup. It had success last year with Roma, and something tells me another Netflix original will be gracing the awards stage next year…
Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) is a World War II veteran, back home and working as a meat van driver, he’s soon embroiled in Philadelphia’s criminal underworld.
Scorsese films are like rich tapestries, full of style and detail, and The Irishman is no different.
For those, like myself, who are seasoned Scorsese vets, you may be surprised as to exactly how much detail is stuffed into The Irishman, filling each of its 3-and-a-half hour runtime, something which in ordinary hands, would very very difficult.
It uses a framework we’ve seen many times before, but with its own style. The central character, Frank Sheeran is telling his story to some unknown and unseen third party, this takes us on an journey that stretches from the 1960’s right into the 21st century.
Frank’s story is that of a perpetual rising star in the mafia world, starting by working odd jobs and eventually becoming the right-hand man to some of the organisations most powerful men, again, it’s not so much how original the story is that makes it worthwhile, but the way it is told.
Scorsese has forgotten more about filmmaking than most will ever know, and his experienced and expert guiding hand can be felt all over the film, as it zips from place to place, scene to scene leaving no stone unturned, no event undocumented. Each event is treated as important as the last, even the fates of side characters are treated as important enough for us to know, and it goes a long way to building a cohesive world and landscape for the viewer to be immersed in.
The veteran filmmaker has lost none of his gift for artistic framing either, making even the most brutal act of violence seem beautiful in its own way. The visuals enhance the story by playing up to its setting. Scenes from the 60’s look like they were shot then, and more modern scenes are in sharper contrast, really giving the impression that we’re part of the story, watching it as it happens.
But, even as it looks as luxurious and vintage as it does, the hand of modern technology is felt, with some absolutely jaw-dropping de-ageing techniques. It is simply amazing how the actors, now in their seventies, can look like they did in their prime with no stand-ins, no prosthetics, just acting and technology. It feels like the film is simultaneously paying respect to the past while openly embracing the future.
What about the acting then? Well, it’s what you come to expect when Scorsese directs DeNiro and Pesci. Those who are only familiar with DeNiro because of his recent (and uniformly awful) comedy films, are in for a reminder of the Titan he once was, he shows that the same actor who brought Travis Bickel to life still exists if it is coaxed out.
Pesci’s turn is even more incredible; it’s been almost a decade since he was last seen on screen, but he strides back in front of camera like he hasn’t missed a step. His character is very much the puppet-master, a long way from his turn in Goodfellas, his intentions are bubbling under, rather than barely contained, and it’s a joy to see him back on screen and in such form.
Not to be forgotten, Pacino threatens to steal the show as Jimmy Hoffa, the union leader who the main plot eventually revolves around, he isn’t introduced until someways into the film, but explodes on the scene like a cannonball, delivering a fiery performance the likes of which we haven’t seen from him in many years.
Maybe the source material lit a fire beneath these three acting greats, and they embraced how good they were, and still could be, but it’s refreshing to once again enjoy the sight of them, as opposed to feeling sorry for them, as I often to, in DeNiro and Pacino’s case especially.
This kind of film is one that is very rarely made these days, probably with good reason. It takes an expert conductor to bring together a symphony orchestra, and it takes a master filmmaker to orchestrate an epic of a film such as this. It’s something that comes around maybe once a decade, and something we should cherish, because it may never come around again.
No matter your take on home streaming, you’re getting a real treat if you’re a Netflix subscriber; as much as I’d argue that this film demands to be seen on the big screen, it delivers an experience like few films can.
I went in with extremely high expectations, but with my usual caution and it met or exceeded every single one, it’s a rollercoaster crafted to the very last detail to guarantee the very best experience; each character has a reason and a purpose, every frame is constructed with precision, and not a single thing is out of place.
In conclusion, this may end up being the last time we see a film like this, and if it is, it’s a fitting last hurrah for all involved. The retelling of a colourful life (to say the least) told in an engaging way. Don’t be put off by it’s long runtime, it earns every second, and makes it worth the while. There is simply nothing else like it, and may never be again. Only time will tell as to how it is remembered amongst the great mob films of history, but in a career built of timeless masterpieces, I think Martin Scorsese has delivered another.