The Irishman continues Martin Scorsese’s streak of cinematic masterpieces with brilliant directing, inspired performances by legendary actors Robert De Niro, and Al Pachino, and tragic themes that profoundly resonate.
The Irishman brings an all-star group of talent together in a love letter to crime and gangster film genre of old. Directed by one of the best minds in cinema, Martin Scorsese, The Irishman is inspired by I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt and stars Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, an alleged mob hitman for the Bufalino crime family and an American labor union official. Joining De Niro is Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno and Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino.
The actors have all been staples of the crime film genre and come together to honor the genre and the medium many made their names in. De Niro and Al Pacino prove once again to be one of the best cinematic pairings of all time, harking back to their days Co-Leading The Godfather Part II. With a biographical framing, The Irishman follows the life of an old Frank Sheeran. The former hitman recalls his life as a member of the Bufalino crime family and many of the controversial and tragic turns that his life took as a result.
The Irishman feels like a throwback to a more traditional cinematic experience in many ways. The extended runtime, the focus on story over spectacle and the push to tell stories that carry themes greater than a standard popcorn experience. Like most Martin Scorsese films, The Irishman plays around with multiple tones at the same time. The film can jump from humorous, to dark and violent, to incredibly heartwrenching in a matter of minutes. The iconic director is at his absolute A-game in the film, seamlessly transitioning between time jumps, location switches and historical backdrops with absolute mastery. Scorsese never takes the material as a joke, rather pushing the complexities of Frank Sheeran’s stories with precision and an emphasis on a human tragedy. Rather than taking the biopic formula in a traditional sense, Scorsese isn’t afraid to push the cinematic limits of the story at hand, using excellent filmmaking techniques to keep the audience guessing but also not losing the overall point of the story, which is the tragedy of Shareen’s life.
The Irishman, at its core, is just that, a story of a human tragedy. The life story of Frank Shareen could have been told in many ways, yet Scorsese made a point to make it a character study more than a character recap. The entire film was told from Shareen’s perspective, where he went, the audience followed. This made the motivations of other characters in the dark from Shareen, and in turn, the audience itself. To make a masterpiece on the level of The Irishman, directing is only half the greatness. The performances make up the other half and the lead of the film, Robert De Niro, does not disappoint. De Niro plays the part to perfection. While debate can be had on how effective the de-aging VFX on the 76-year-old actor was, personally it looked great to me and never took me out of the film.
The final 90 minutes of De Niro’s performance was gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking and a cautionary tale of consequences of a sinful life. Frank Shareen was not a good man, nor does Scorsese try to convince the audience of otherwise. Yet, by following the life of one man, who was in over his head and got caught in a life of crime, murder, and mafia-affairs for 3 hours and 3o minutes, human empathy starts to settle. By the time the final shot of the film eerily settles in as the ending of the movie, you can’t help but feel the kind of loneliness that Scorsese intended for you to feel. Robert De Niro will very much be in Oscar contention this year and has given Joaquin Pheonix’s performance in Joker, another film he had a prominent role in, a run for his money.
Outside of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino brings out his best performance in decades with Scorsese’s directing and De Niro’s co-star presence. Playing a historical figure like Jimmy Hoffa proved to be the injection the film needed to truly take it to the next level. Before his introduction scene in the film, The Irishman was playing almost as a love letter to The Godfather. After it, it truly began setting its own cinematic tone and feel. Pacino plays best in scenes with his Corleone counterpart and the pairing truly made for some of the best movie moments of the year. Not enough can be said of the performance by Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino. Pesci did not just bring his A-Game, he was almost a show-stealer every moment he occupied the screen. The character was mysterious as much as he was engaging and his role in the downfall of Shareen made for some of the best moments of the film.
Overall, The Irishman is a masterpiece on every level. The trio of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci bring their best performances in years under the masterful directing eye of Martin Scorsese. With heartbreaking themes about the unforgiving nature of life and the tragic downfall of a man who simply followed orders, The Irishman is the best film of 2019.