Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story, and when it comes to "The Irishman," this is one heck of a tale, with some of the best there have ever been doing some of their career-best work. For real.
DISCLAIMER: I am very biased when it comes to Al Pacino. He is, you see, the greatest actor in the history of cinema, and nobody can convince me otherwise. He's simply a force, the kind of guy that commands the screen, sometimes to the detriment of the film.
From a young age (back in the stone ages when not every movie was available on a streaming service), I collected every single one of Al's performances. From his first-ever movie appearance in the Patty Duke film, "Me, Natalie," to his take-notice performance in "The Panic in Needle Park," and yes, even "Jack & Jill." Of course I own VHS and DVD copies of all of the big hits that have made Pacino a star: "The Godfather" trilogy, "Scarface," "Serpico," "Scent of a Woman," etc., down to his little-known films such as "Bobby Deerfield," "Scarecrow," "Cruising" and "Revolution." Yes, I even own copies of his almost impossible-to-find directorial efforts, "Chinese Coffee" and "The Local Stigmatic," and if you ask nicely, I'll show you my straight-from-TV-taped VHS copies of his AFI Tribute, and his small role in the 1968 TV episode of "N.Y.P.D." Suffice it to say, I'm predisposed to gush over all things Al Pacino.
So those that follow my social media and say, "Well of course you're going to love The Irishman and give it a good review, Netflix paid for you to fly out to LA to attend the Premiere and meet Al, Bob and Marty at a critics-only press conference!" To you I say, yes, Netflix did fly me out to attend all of these festivities. But anybody who thinks I'll ever be swayed away from giving my honest thoughts and opinions, clearly has never met me.
My bias has nothing to do with Netflix, and everything to do with Al Pacino.
With that out of the way, onto "The Irishman," the latest epic mob-drama from master filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, who assembles some of the best actors of all-time (Pacino included) and leads them towards what is plainly one of the best films of 2019. Is it perfect? Not quite, but damn if it isn't GREAT.
The story revolves around real-life, low-level mob-guy, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who was the subject of the 2004 novel by Charles Brandt called, "I Heard You Paint Houses." This title was taken from something Brandt heard Sheeran say during an interview in the latter stages of Sheeran's life, with the "paint" referring to blood splatter...in other words, yes I kill people (paint houses) and I also do my own carpentry work (I clean up the mess and dispose of the body as well).
Sheeran is not the most reliable of narrators, despite his knack of "being there" in close proximity to several major events of the 1960s and 1970s. In an interview, Scorsese refers to Sheeran as "the Forrest Gump of the Mafia," in that he just simply seems to be woven into every important storyline of the time. His major claim in the book is the focus of "The Irishman," the "fact" that he claims that he's the one that actually killed famous Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) and disposed of the body. Hoffa's disappearance is now legendary, as the body was never found, and those that live in the Detroit area know that the legend lives on, as every few years or so we're shown a police crew digging up new portions of the city, acting on a tip as to the whereabouts of Hoffa's body.
"The Irishman" presents Frank Sheeran's version of events as gospel, which might be problematic for some historians and those familiar with the man...his claims conveniently came later in life once all other major collaborators had passed on, leaving no one credible to challenge his assertions. Oh by the way, he also says that he is the one that supplied the guns used in the Kennedy Assassination, at the behest of the Mafia, so believe Sheeran at your own risk.
Scorsese though, takes Frank seriously, and he creates a sprawling crime epic that feels worthy enough to be uttered in the same breath as other Scorsese classics such as "Goodfellas," "Casino" or "Mean Streets." Taking this film to Netflix, it's clear that he was able to create his vision of the film unfettered, and this is a blessing and a curse. At a run time of nearly three-and-a-half-hours, the film sometimes drifts off-course, despite never supplying a dull moment. And for the record, there is nothing at all wrong with a long movie, it's just how those minutes are used to tell the overarching story. Here, despite the deliciousness of the trimmings, Scorsese could have probably cut a bit of the fat.
The film's flow can be a bit jarring, as the story of Sheeran's interactions with Hoffa sprawls several decades. In fact, a "de-aging" technology was used in the film mainly on De Niro and Pacino, who acted all the scenes but whose faces were digitally altered. I'm happy to report that this CG was very well-done, only noticeable maybe the first time you see a young De Niro or Pacino on screen, but then seamlessly integrated into the story.
You get the sense that every actor in Hollywood was DYING to be included in a Scorsese film, so the movie is populated with more cameos, small appearances by big-name actors and familiar faces almost to the point of distraction. You'll see, for example, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jack Huston, Ray Romano, Kathrine Narducci and Harvey Keitel show up, nail their scenes and then disappear nearly as quickly and suddenly as Hoffa himself. Given slightly larger roles are Jesse Plemons, as Hoffa's son Chuckie O'Brien, and Stephen Graham as Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, who had a beef with Hoffa leading up to his last days (Graham is the break-out star of another Scorsese-produced entity, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," in which Graham plays the young Al Capone).
But despite the stellar ensemble, I've saved the best for last. Joe freaking Pesci, everybody. The beloved actor had legitimately retired from acting, having not appeared in a film since 2010's "Love Ranch." He reportedly took a lot of convincing to jump back in, but finally gave in once his good friend Bob De Niro pointed out how this truly was a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of talent. If this is true, then we all owe De Niro our gratitude, because Joe Pesci gives the best performance of his long career as mobster Russell Buffalino, in a quiet, simmering and subtle performance that should in every way be celebrated this awards season. Given that he does this work alongside the likes of Pacino and De Niro, it's almost heart-breaking to know that Pesci must not find much joy in this profession anymore, but wow does he still have gas in the tank.
Speaking of performances, Robert De Niro, the legendary actor, does some of his best work in decades as Frank Sheeran. And while both De Niro and Pacino appeared in "The Godfather Part II," and since have only done a few scenes together (in 1995's "Heat" as well as the forgettable 2008 film, "Righteous Kill"), they are nearly in half of this movie together, and a cinematic chemical reaction takes place, igniting the film with their brilliance. This leads us back full-circle to the performance of Pacino, who is award-worthy in "The Irishman," and take it from a Pacino-phile like me, it's his best work in ages, perhaps since 2003's "Angels in America" HBO mini-series, a performance that landed him his first of two Emmys.
Between Pacino, De Niro and Pesci, they have collected 17 Oscar nominations with four wins among them...add in the nine nominations and one win from Scorsese and it's undeniable that "The Irishman" has assembled an All-Star Team who happen to be killing it at the top of their games. What is even more impressive however, is that this film might increase all of these numbers, because they're all worthy of being recognized.
For a long movie, "The Irishman" moves quick, and it's a film that deserves to be seen on the big-screen. Like the best mob movies in a genre that Scorsese helped in forging, you'll laugh, cry and howl at the screen...and you'll be shaken by the sudden violence and poor choices that some of the characters make. Maybe it's their age, but Scorsese is no longer glorifying this lifestyle and he seems interested in something much more human...this life may be worthy of being showcased in the movies, but it's not a admirable life to lead, and in fact, only ends one way.
But whether on the big-screen (preferable), your home theater or (gasp!) on your phone, just make sure you see this movie when and wherever you can...the size of the screen cannot possibly restrain the massive contribution to cinema that Scorsese's "The Irishman" makes.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Biography.
Run Time: 3 hours and 29 minutes.
Based on the 2004 book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt
Screenplay by Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List," ""Gangs of New York," "Moneyball," "Awakenings.")
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Aleksa Palladino, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jesse Plemons, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale.
Directed by Martin Scorsese ("Silence," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Hugo," "The Aviator," "Casino," "Goodfellas," "The King of Comedy," "Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver.")
"The Irishman" opens in theaters on Friday, November 15th for a limited theatrical run, then is available for streaming on Netflix on Wednesday, November 27th, 2019.
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