Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic, The Irishman, is a three and a half hour look at the life of former mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, particularly his time spent with Jimmy Hoffa. The Irishman stars two of Scorsese’s frequent collaborators from the days of his gangster films, Robert De Niro as Frank and Joe Pesci as mob boss Russell Bufalino, as well as Al Pacino playing Jimmy Hoffa, in his first collaboration with Scorsese.
Based on the book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ by Charles Brandt The Irishman is a sprawling epic covering Frank’s beginnings with the mob, through until his later years. But the bulk of the film is taken up with Frank’s relationship with Hoffa, leading up until Hoffa’s eventual disappearance in 1975, and this is where the film is at its absolute best. How much of the film is true to real life events is unclear, but as an adaptation of Brandt’s book it is certainly an epic story.
Whilst the film takes a little while to really get into the meat of the story, and by the end starts to feel its length. However when we are learning about Frank and Hoffa, and Hoffa’s relationship with the mob, the film is fantastic. That isn’t to say there isn’t great stuff at the bookends of the film, but at three and a half hours it feels as though some of the film could have been trimmed.
But you can understand why Scorsese wants to indulge in this film. To see three of the great actors of their, or any, generation on screen together, particularly in the genre they made their name, is incredible. De Niro as Frank probably gives the most reserved performance of the three, and really helps ground the film with the number of illustrious names appearing.
Meanwhile Pesci and Pacino are just delightful, seeing them return to the kind of roles they cut their teeth on is an absolute joy. People have wanted to see De Niro and Pacino share the screen for years, with only a few scenes in 1995’s Heat to suffice. Well there is plenty of the pair together in The Irishman, and you would expect they are dynamite together.
The biggest issue with the film aside from its runtime is that a number of the earlier scenes in the film use deaging technology with a few of the characters, like Frank and Russell. Obviously we know what De Niro and Pesci looked like when they were younger, and whilst the CGI process does bring those younger faces to life it can be a little off putting and distracting because that technology isn’t quite there yet, unless you go the Gemini Man route and make them a full CGI character.
But it is fantastic to see an auteur like Scorsese go back to his routes in the crime genre, and deliver. Whilst it may be long, the film is a fascinating look at mob history and some rich relationships, built on three great performances by some acting powerhouses. This is a must watch for any film fan when it comes to Netflix in late November.