The Irishman: Classic 70's Scorsese Made in 2019
The Irishman’s cast reminds me of when my friends and I played basketball as kids and we would spend time coming up with a dream team to take the court. LeBron and Kevin Durant are the forwards, Wilt Chamberlain plays center, and so on. Well, The Irishman’s cast is the ultimate dream team for a mob movie. The perfect mob movie has to be directed by Scorsese. If Scorsese is the director that means De Niro has to star in it. If De Niro is there, Al Pacino has to star alongside him. Joe Pesci comes out of retirement for it. Harvey Keitel will be in it too. Its hard to believe I’m describing a real movie—made in 2019, no less—but I am. And its a special thing that film fans get to see some of the greatest partnerships in cinema history, coming together for what is probably the last time.
This movie is based on the nonfiction book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’. In the book, Frank Sheeran (played by De Niro) confesses to various crimes he committed for the Mafia which led to his involvement in Jimmy Hoffa’s (Pacino) disappearance. Is this really the way it went down? Who knows. But Sheeran’s story is a plausible and likely explanation. Obviously, we can’t avoid the acting performances when talking about The Irishman. Everyone in this movie is fantastic. The best performance, though, has to be Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa. The de-aging technology certainly helps him disappear into the character but its not the only thing that makes him seem younger. Pacino is just so alive in this role. He nails the cocky, eccentric attitude that comes along with playing Jimmy Hoffa perfectly. And, yes, he does have several classic Pacino scenes where he gets pissed off and cusses a bunch of people out. Its great. Joe Pesci is also a key part of the film. Thank god they finally convinced him to take the role because this movie would not be the same without him. Throughout his career, he's usually played brazen maniacs, but this is the only time I've seen him play a character that is actually scary. His character is the type who might pour you a glass of wine and fix you a plate of pasta one day and then call a hit on you that night like it's nothing. De Niro, of course, is also great. Without a doubt, this is the best he’s been in a very long time, probably the best he’s been this century. Basically, this movie is an acting powerhouse and it was great to see these actors, not only in the same movie, but also appearing in the same scenes, playing off each other and working together so well. The shining example of this would be the scenes with Pacino and De Niro. Their characters have a compelling storyline together and, lets not forget, the two actors have a long history together. You have to wonder how some of their real life interactions inspired the scenes in this movie. Like I said, its the dream team.
The Irishman is not a simple mob movie though. It tells it’s story well and is lots of fun, but the narrative is at it’s best towards the end. When it comes to Frank Sheeran’s arc, this movie is a rise and fall story. But his downfall doesn't come in the form of him going mad with power or developing an addiction like you'd expect in a mob movie. It comes in a much more terrifying form. Frank simply gets old. It’s portrayal of his chaotic life and the repercussions of his actions is reminiscent of the classic downward spirals of Tony Montana or Michael Corleone except there's no hint of romanticization. Throughout the film, the most brutal and sociopathic mobsters are reduced to elderly stroke victims and guys in nursing homes buying their own caskets. Despite what they've done, the audience has to empathize because the story taps into a universal fear: aging. Whether you’re a hitman for the mob or a preschool teacher, your glory days are going to become a memory, you’ll lose lots of people close to you and, eventually, your physical abilities will deteriorate as well. Needless to say, the aging process of a violent mobster like Frank Sheeran is uncomfortable to watch. For some, it may be a little too real. But that’s where the best parts of this movie lie. The nuances of the characters, the tough decisions they have to make and how they live with themselves after. At a certain point, The Irishman stops being a fun mob movie and reality sets in.
This movie is rooted in reality in more ways than one. Obviously, it tells a story that’s based in truth and it represents what the real people must have gone through mentally and emotionally. But it also speaks truth to the people who made it. The aging stars in this movie certainly have a connection to the themes of getting older and retiring. In fact, it was allegedly De Niro’s idea to make a movie about Frank Sheeran, a story which Scorsese said made him “rather emotional”. And so, the bittersweet part of this movie comes from whats really going on. Seeing all these guys work together again is awesome, but its a little sad because we all know this is the last time. Joe Pesci will most likely return to retirement and the rest of them will keep doing other stuff separately. Movies like this don’t get made often, especially when the actors are all pushing 80.
I’m interested in seeing what this movie’s reputation will be like over the years. What will the general consensus be about it’s rank among these actor’s best roles? Where will it rank among the best De Niro/Scorsese movies? How groundbreaking will the use of de-aging technology be? To this point, its never been done better and I suspect a bunch of movies are going to start trying to match it. I can see a trend of old actors taking younger roles over the next few years. Only time will tell how that goes though. For now, all I know is The Irishman is something special.