The Irishman Movie - Through
A mobster movie doesn't open in a nursing home. The camera doesn't pan on women and men too frail to turn around. The hero, or the villain, depending on how your moral compass turns or doesn't, is not withered, wearied, wheelchair-bound, who wonders: "What did I know?"
Pit this opening scene from Martin Scorsese's The Irishman against his last major mobster outing The Departed, which released 13 long years ago. Francis "Frank" Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, is ageing but straight-backed, cautious but with enough punches left to hook you and pull you inside his world: "Twenty years after an Irishman couldn't get a job, we had the presidency. That's what the niggers don't realise. If I got one thing against the black chaps it's this. No one gives it to you. You have to take it."
13 years is a long time. Scorsese is 77 years old. His leading men in The Irishman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and the inimitable Joe Pesci are 76, 79 and 76 respectively. The audience frowns if you call black men niggers even on screen, reviewers call you out for not giving women actors enough screen time even in a period gansta movie, and Netflix comes to your rescue when Big Studios feel uncomfortable about putting in Big Money even on a Scorsese movie with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci.
Yet Scorsese's heart bleeds for the time that was. The Irishman is his ninth collaboration with De Niro and fourth with both De Niro and Pesci. And it's his fifth film to plunge directly in the world of gangsters. And, his first time with Pacino!
With The Irishman, Scorcese takes you back to the 1950s. Truck driver Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran (De Niro) gets involved with Russell "McGee" Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family based out of Pennsylvania. As Sheeran rises up the ranks to become a topdog hit man, he comes in the good books of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) -- a powerful truck drivers' union bossman who is tied to organised crime. It is what happens between these hard men as they smoke and drink and dream and kill with abandon that The Irishman is about.
This is an amoral space, where the mobster doesn't need a back story, any justification for a life lived a certain way ("As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States," dialogue from Scorsese's Goodfellas). This space has ceased to exist.
No one is more aware of this than Scorsese himself. The disapproval of her father's ways by Sheeran's daughter is the disapproval of the New Audience, fed on a junk diet of superhero movies and teen romance on smart phones, for Big Movies in big theatres. Hence the hesitation of Big Studios to produce The Irishman. This may well be Scorsese's last outing with the fine gents whose acting chops he discovered and nourished.
Be that as it may, this is a classic Scorsese movie with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci (who came out of retirement for The Irishman), in top form. Critics have long debated who is better among the two, and though author-backed, I am going to stick my neck out and put De Niro above Pacino in this one. But for all the eye-ball grabbing real-life newspaper headlines from which The Irishman has liberally borrowed, it is also the smaller roles, also based on real people, that make this film so layered. The character of Joe Gallo, for instance, who was one of New York's most reputed mobsters, brilliantly played in the movie by Sebastian Maniscalco.
If you are a Scorsese fan, you have already watched the movie more than once. But should you waste 209 minutes of your time if you are not? Twitter has called the film boring. Well, I still think you should, only if to know how yesterday was when The Beatles sang and the barman poured your drink freely and the man in the next bar stool said: "I don't know how he did it, and I ain't going to ask... I should've been down for the count. Instead, we went out celebrating, and I met what was going to turn out to be the rest of my life..."