The Irishman Movie Review: Marty and his actors master-class

Updated: Dec 01, 2019, 13:42 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

The Irishman is essentially a cross between a movie and a series -- a seriously stunning slow-burn. Let it seep into you, like an unputdownable novel (which is how I watched it the second time on). Because you can.

A still from The Irishman
A still from The Irishman

The Irishman
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
Rating: Rating

Watched this movie on the big screen end-September, at a press preview, soon after its world premiere in New York. Sure, had heard that the film's rather long — at three hours, 30 minutes — although you must also know that of that running time, over 10 minutes is the closing credit. Caught it without an interval (obviously). And yet as morning fell to noon, it didn't seem for a second that I'd been inside a dark hall through what would count as half a working day for many.

There was no friend around, let alone an Indian journalist. Can't tell you what it means to restrain/curb enthusiasm over a masterpiece, knowing that it's too early to spread/share that joy with others, since the film would eventually drop on Netflix, only end-November. As it has. Happy to briefly pour heart out now!

Who's the film about? Teamster Union boss Jimmy Hoffa, whose influence on America once, to quote this film, was the equivalent of Elvis in the '50s, and The Beatles in the '60s, combined. Although very few Americans remember him now. But for the fact that he mysteriously disappeared in 1975.

How does the chief of a national truckers'/lorry-drivers' union, essentially a labour-union, enjoy that level of power against corporates, with access to pension funds in billions, is the sort of anomaly that makes capitalism rather intriguing in America. It is among the more socialistic countries I know! Al Pacino plays Hoffa. But his towering presence waltzes into the screen 45 minutes into the movie. Clearly this isn't so much his story then. He's simply there to steal the show!

The film (written by Steven Zaillian) is based on the book, I Heard You Paint Houses, by Charles Brandt. And it basically follows the life of one Frank Sheeran, who 'paints houses', which is Mafia term for kills, or murders — derived from blood splattering on walls that need painting as a result. And he does "carpentry" too, implying perhaps, a clean job. And that you can see, inevitably in dark, empty alleys — only curious about the absolute absence of local police in '50s/'60s America!

What's Sheeran got that others don't? Frankly, Robert De Niro. He embodies this part like he owns it, reacts to the world at the same time as his audience — rather than ever seeming like he's been given a script. The trait that defines Sheeran is loyalty — he "followed orders, and if you did the right things, you got rewarded."

Watch the trailer of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci starrer The Irishman here

He'd served under General Patton's US Army (in WWII), to Hoffa (as his right-hand man). But got spotted as a talent while a trucker first by one Russel Buffalino — a kingpin type, representing shadowy, secret overlords that controls wheels within wheels of American public life, while the world believes it lives within a rule of law.

Joe Pesci aces Buffalino. And between Pesci, 76; Pacino, 79; De Niro, 76; Harvey Keitel, frickin' 80 (in a relatively minor role) — what you have before you is essentially a full constellation of supremely trained/sorted star-actors, with names etched in golden letters in American cinema-history, guiding it towards ageless, gritty realism in the '70s, that continues to inspire performers across the globe.

What would you do to watch them relive/recreate those glory days together? Employ George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic to devise an unobtrusive, de-ageing, facial-capture technology, to place these actors back into their younger selves. Does it work? Body-language wise, not exactly. But does it jar? Not at all.

Let's just put it this way, De Niro may not entirely look/seem like Max Cady from Cape Fear (1991). But you'll have no trouble accepting him as a younger Frank Sheeran. '70s film-buffs would give anything to see a similarly de-aged Amitabh Bachchan in a saga of this sort.

That said, it doesn't quite get bigger than Pacino and De Niro as compadres in the same frame, exuding a certain kind of care and companionship that their own separate stardoms didn't allow for, when they were at their peak. There is sub-text even outside the screen. That scene, when Sheeran walks out of a meeting, and Hoffa cajoles him to not misunderstand, is to live for.

More than anything else, it is stellar, performance-based, dramatic set-pieces that have made director Martin Scorsese's films memorable over decades. Check out in particular two such sequences between Hoffa and Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) in this film. Do you sense a touch of Goodfellas (1990) in The Irishman? Watch out for stand-up comedy in a scene. Isn't the visual encyclopedia of guns reprising Taxi Driver (1976)? For sure.

Be that as it may, The Irishman, with 309 scenes, shot over 108 days, between 117 locations, remains perhaps Scorsese's most ambitious American Mob/Mafia thriller — a genre he's lorded over, like no other. And he's himself 77; naturally de-ageing (unlike his actors!). What's also a feat? That he's made it for a post-modern web-platform that can allow for a running-time, which would've been a collector's edition director's cut, until few years ago.

On Netflix, The Irishman is essentially a cross between a movie and a series — a seriously stunning slow-burn. Let it seep into you, like an unputdownable novel (which is how I watched it the second time on). Because you can.

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