The Irishman (2019)

the-irishman-de-niro-pacino

Food: Prepped the start of the New York Film Festival with a simple pb&j and banana and then my friend and I went to The Smith (across from Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall) for some drinks. To be in theme with the night, we got drinks with the names: Desperado and Touch of Evil. We also split some fries and shishito peppers as a snack.

Film: “The Irishman” is Martin Scorsese’s newest film, which was both long awaited and also has a very long running time (3 hrs and 30 minutes). The majority of the hype was centered around the fact that Joe Pesci came out of pseudo-retirement from acting and also that there would be CGI used to de-age the actors. Further, it’s a Scorsese film and it stars Pesci, Robert DeNiro and (for the first time in a Scorsese movie) Al Pacino. I will start by saying it was worth all the hype.

The film starts with our titular character, Frank Sheeran (DeNiro), in a wheel chair at a nursing home, telling the story of his life, thus becoming the narrator for the film, which is depicted through a series of flashbacks. Sheeran begins his career as a simple meat delivery man, who through a course of random interactions becomes close to some very powerful people: Russel Bufalino, a mafioso, and Jimmy Hoffa, a well-known union leader.

“The Irishman” is reminiscent of some of Scorsese’s most iconic gangster films (“Goodfellas”) in its grandiose display and overall tone, but has a slower, more introspective layer that can only be gleaned from the passage of time and old age. Within the antics, we witness the character also quietly wrestle with the consequences of his choices in a way that is less explored in other films of this nature.There is a lot to love about this film. Every single time a pivotal character is introduced, there is a pause and a caption appears that tells us the (usually brutal) way they died. This stylistic element is used for comedy and context. It is exciting to see 1960s Brooklyn. The cinematography is masterful. One scene particularly stood out, when Frank Sheeran is being recognized at an opulent party, and between the on-stage flamenco dances are the chilling glares of a mobster making moves. The entire piece is humorous. Instead of having one or two gut busting scenes, the whole film is written with dryly humorous dialogue and really innately comedic characters.

Everyone already has their take on whether Pesci or Pacino shined more, and for me, it was Pacino. However, Pesci delivers an undeniable performance that is startlingly quiet and controlled – especially compared to his short tempered explosive characters of the past. As Bufalino, he will dismantle an entire person with a quick nod. He can make ones blood run cold. It is a brilliant performance. But Pacino, as the charismatic Hoffa, is reckless, loud, passionate, eccentric and it is so fun to watch. Even with the other performances being as impeccable as they are, so much of the film depends on him playing this character well, and he is superb.

“The Irishman” is an instant classic and with continued viewings will inevitably become more nuanced and there will be more to say. But the take away is that three and a half hours flies by with filmmaking this good. It is safe to say that this will go down as one of the legendary masterpieces of Scorsese’s career.

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