Review: The Irishman

Director: Martin Scorsese
The Irishman is showing at the Historic Theater on Sunday, January 26 at 3pm.

Watching The Irishman is as if the main character, Frank Sheeran, is your grandfather in his nursing home, telling you stories of his youth. The film is Frank recounting his life from starting out as a young union teamster before befriending crime boss Russel Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and becoming an assassin for the mob. As an old man, he reflects on mob activities, murders, and his longtime friendship with notorious teamster president Jimmy Hoffa…and his knowledge about Hoffa’s infamous disappearance. The film is based on the narrative nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, a homicide prosecutor and investigator. It has a real Goodfellas feel but without the nostalgia. Even Frank confesses to feeling very little about his actions and, while most mob movies end with either the character’s violent death or confession to the police, Frank trudges on as he always did.

There are several things about this film that seemingly made it an Oscar darling—Oscar favorite Martin Scorsese directing a powerhouse cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, and Anna Paquin. De Niro is the gold standard that De Niro always is. Every scene is constant even if he isn’t given a grand range of emotions to use. Pesci is the real surprise. His famous shrill voice and endless energy are absent. We don’t get a Goodfellas “You think I’m funny” scene; instead, you get calm, composed, and subtle. The film also gained recognition for its heavy use of de-aging special effects. The story is told over a 60 year time period and the lead actors were de-aged with special effects—to varying degrees of success. De Niro ranges from his 20s to his 80s, although the younger he is, the less believable it looks. Pesci’s less drastic aging process is more convincing. One of the strangest aspects of watching De Niro’s face age doesn’t actually have to do with the special effects at all. He is given (either through contact lenses or CGI) ice blue eyes. Instead of whatever intended effect they were meant to give, they are just distracting and often they make him look almost like a “cyborg” as some reviews have said.

The story itself is complicated and if you enjoy mob and union politics it may be interesting, but most of the story went over my head. Pacino as Hoffa is enjoyable but exhausting as Frank’s job seems to be a never-ending task to wrangle an un-wrangleable person. The film is long and the story is so packed with characters and information that it drags in several sections. However, amongst all the information and un-ceremonious murders, the film is bopping with 50s and 60s hits that fill in the missing nostalgia from the film. It has many elements that should make it fantastic but instead, it is too slow and convoluted. If you love mob movies or great performances then this is worth a watch—just make sure you go to the bathroom first.