The Irishman

Review: The Irishman

30 Nov 19

Knockout

Scripted by Steven Zallian from Charles Brandt’s book I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, Martin Scorsese’s latest chronicles the life and times of Frank Sheeran, (Robert De Niro on top, subtle acting form).

Scorsese is pretty clear from the outset that the movie is called I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES. The title appears at the front and the end, bookending the film and giving Netflix the finger, because it doesn’t matter how much their marketing people try to rebrand it, this is Producers Scorsese and De Niro’s movie and they ain’t messing.

Yes, it’s long. Three and a half hours long. But the pleasure is in wallowing in the team-up of this great cast, as De Niro and Pacino finally get to play together in lengthy scenes worth their while, with Pacino having a blast as larger-than-life Teamsters union boss, Jimmy Hoffa.

The best news? The two veteran actors get to do some wildly funny scenes, including one in which De Niro’s Sheeran exits a room only to be talked down by Pacino’s Hoffa, who claims he didn’t even notice Frank was there as he screamed imaginative insults to all and sundry.

Then there’s De Niro and Joe Pesci, reunited after their unforgettable roles together in Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS, RAGING BULL and CASINO, only this time it’s Pesci who takes on the quiet, but lethal, shark role as Mafia boss Russell Bufalino, who turns Sheeran from a second world war veteran, and Teamsters trucker, into a fully-fledged hitman who “paints houses” and does his own “carpentry”.

The scenes in which the two communicate what’s unsaid and unscripted are object lessons in acting-to-camera, with every thought captured as clear as if their every thought was subtitled.

Together with long-time editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s energy and humour are not the whizz-bang knockout blows thrown by the hellfire pace, editing and swooping camera moves of GOODFELLAS, RAGING BULL or CASINO, but the measured pace of age, regret and experience.

Sheeran’s life is revealed to be one of crime and violence that has emptied his heart and soul, robbing him of conscience, empathy, guilt, love or companionship.

The cast are an amazing ensemble of top-notch talent, most notably Stephen Graham, who gets to go several rounds with Pacino as Hoffa’s nemesis, Tony Pro. Then there’s Anna Paquin as Peggy, Frank’s daughter, and missing conscience, watching wordlessly as her father falls deeper into amoral darkness.

Jesse Plemons is superb as Hoffa’s dim-witted son, who gets one of the funniest and most poignant scenes as he ineptly explains how he came to have a fish on his backseat. Plus there are Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Steven Van Zandt, with Aleska Palladino and Kathrine Narducci both outstanding as Frank and Russell’s chain-smoking wives. Is the focus on this male dominated world of gangsters, corrupt politicians, crooked police and dishonest government officials sexist? Yes. For good or bad, it intentionally and unapologetically reflects on deeply sexist times and people.

Yes the de-aging CGI can be a little distracting, as youthful De Niro’s face is undermined by his clearly older body, but it’s only jarring in a few physically intense scenes. For the most part, the de-aging is unobtrusive and flawless.

The timeline jumps around all over the place, yet thanks to art direction, music, costume, hair, script, direction, acting and editing you are never at a loss as to where in time you are, as an old and frail Frank narrates the sorry story of his life, and the many lives he ended.

In the end though, this is no action movie, but an engrossing character study, with a knockout cast giving great performances in a drama that contains some wonderfully funny character comedy and a palpable sense of regret of a life wasted in pursuit of death.