The Irishman [Review]

Dipping bread in wine, known as Intinction, speaks to the shared Catholic traditions of Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). © 2019 Netlfix US, LLC. All rights reserved.

Last year, Netflix won big with Alfonso Caron’s Roma. It was a turning point for them and it was just a matter of time before more high profile filmmakers made their way to a streaming service. This year saw just that, a wave of filmmakers walk toward streaming services instead of regular theatrical releases. And Netflix found a film that might just propel them to win big once again at this year’s Oscar ceremony. It might be surprising to see Martin Scorsese creates a film and have it bow on Netflix instead of having the theatrical release one would be accustomed to seeing with a name like his. But after viewing The Irishman it’s easy to see why Netflix was not only the best choice for the film but also the only choice.

The Irishman is probably the most Scorsese movie he has done in years. Telling the story of Frank Sheeran ( Robert De Niro) a World War II veteran who in his old age recounts his time as a hitman for the Italian mafia. It’s this typical gangster movie that you would expect from Scorsese, but it also works so well. It’s Scorsese at his best, working with a story that plays to his strengths and moves along quite nicely. Gangster movies have this DNA inside of them, this story that plays to the tropes of its genre and The Irishman does just that. But it does it in a way that works, a way that doesn’t make it feel like you have seen this film before even if you kind of have. This is something Scorsese has always done well, something he’s mastered over time.

You would think that you would feel the three and half hour run time but it’s also impossible to feel it because of how swiftly things move along. There’s something special about Scorsese’s ability to create a story that could have felt so long, but this is also one of the reasons why I believe Netflix is the only place The Irishman to play. While it’s a shame that most won’t get to watch it on the big screen, it’s also comprehensible. A film that long, most will not be able to watch without moving around, doing stuff, pausing it and it’s comprehensible why Netflix is the one that will show it. While it does get a limited theatrical release, mostly to be able to be a contender come Oscar season, most people will be watching it at home. And maybe that is the best way to watch it. While it’s a shame that not everyone will be able to watch this work of art in theatres, it might also be a good thing.

De-ageing will become the new thing in the cinema, but really it shouldn’t. I thought, going into the film that I was going to be annoyed by the de-ageing the whole time but after a while, you do get used to it. And I think that is a testament to the film itself. Because while it is jarring and sometimes doesn’t work, mostly when De Niro is forced to do some action scene and you see his age come through, The Irishman holds your attention. The characters are all flawed, they are all multi-dimensioned or almost all. This is probably my biggest problem with the film, and most of Scorsese’s film really. The treatment of the female characters, or the lack of female characters really. While I understand that this is Frank’s story, I wish more time had been given to his daughters and wives. The fact that they have an actress of Anna Paquin’s calibre and yet she barely says a word in the whole film. It’s a thing that happens too often in Scorsese’s film, where female characters just feel like an afterthought and this is the case again here.

But even with all that, you can’t forget the masterful piece of work that Scorsese has created. The Irishman might not work always when it comes to its de-ageing process, but the strong performances, story and camera work creates a film that simply stays with you. While the discussion surrounding this movie has now turned towards Scorsese and his battle with Marvel films, we can’t forget that this is a man that has created some of the best films of the last decades. It’s a man who is a master of his craft and continues to prove again and again why he is such a master of cinema. The Irishman might not be Scorsese’s swan song but it’s a film that reminds us how this director has been in our life for a very long time and created some classics over his careers.

Plus, The Irishman made me realize how much I missed Joe Pesci, and that is always a good thing.