Okay, let’s start with the basics. Yes it’s long. No it doesn’t feel long. Yes the de-aging is good. No it’s not perfect. Yes you should try to see The Irishman in the cinema. Yes Joe Pesci’s performance is definitely worthy of Oscar consideration. Is it Scorcese’s best? No.
I wanted to see The Irishman in the cinema for a few reasons. One, I can be a film-snob and I definitely believe all movies are better in the cinema. Two, for a film this long, I need the focus of a big screen, in a dark room, with great sound to stop me from grabbing my phone or wandering around the room getting distracted while the movie is on the screen.
The Irishman is pretty damn great, definitely up there with Scorcese’s best work and it’s interesting to see him return to familiar territory from a different angle. This isn’t a film about mobsters and power – it’s a film about aging.
Robert DeNiro is at his blue-collar best as Frank Sheeran (there has been speculation that he’s a distant relation of pop star Ed). Frank comes to the attention of some powerful men as a contractor who “paints houses” aka shoots people. The Irishman (based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses) charts Sheeran’s life in multiple flashbacks, starting in a retirement home, before jumping back to a midlife road-trip, and then to his early days in the business.
His lifelong relationship with Pesci’s crime-boss Russell Bufalino forms the spine of the movie, and Pesci’s performance is one of subtle menace. It was well worth drawing him out of retirement for this film. Capping off the film’s trinity of performances is Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, a boisterous role (well, it’s relatively restrained and quiet for Pacino, but big for the film) that adds flavour to the mix.
As Frank’s life progresses and he is faced with making hard choices that see his family drift away and his friendships tested, DeNiro’s performance grows – the weight of his life increases with each scene. It’s this kind of transformation over time that justifies the movie’s 3 hour 28 minute running time.
For all the love being heaped on Scorcese and the screenplay by Steve Zaillian (both great), it’s Scorcese’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker who is the star of this production. In her hands the film feels barely longer than two hours. We weave seamlessly through multiple flashbacks without the need of explanatory title-cards or obvious pointers. The Irishman simply flows, through memories and incidents. The tension builds carefully; it is narrative editing at its finest.
Yes, you could save yourself a few bucks and wait to watch The Irishman on Netflix (hopefully on an obnoxiously large TV screen and not on your phone), but do yourself a favour, grab a large popcorn and sit down in a dark cinema. You won’t regret it.
By Chad Armstrong
The Irishman opened this year’s New York Film Festival and closed the BFI London Film Festival. It’s currently playing in select cinemas and will premiere on Netflix this Thanksgiving, Thursday November 27th 2019. For more details or to stream the film head to Netflix.com/TheIrishman.