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FilmSoc Reviews: The Irishman

Posted by FilmSoc on Fri, 18-10-2019

By Eoin McCambridge

Netflix’s newest big new release The Irishman sees the acclaimed team of Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese reunite for the first time since 1995s Casino. De Niro stars as real life mafia hitman Frank ‘Irish’ Sheeran in this gangster film based on Sheeran’s memoir ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’, chronicling his relationships with the Buffalino crime family and trade union leader Jimmy Hoffa throughout the 60s and 70s. Hoffa is played by Al Pacino and Joe Pesci seemingly comes out of retirement to play crime boss Russell Buffalino. The holy trinity of gangster movie actors in one film directed by the man behind Goodfellas? The Irishman certainly has a high standard to meet. 

Were greeted by a familiar looking Scorsese tracking shot as we immediately become immersed in the life of Frank Sheeran. Not an overly complex protagonist, he carries out cold murders while still managing to demonstrate love and brotherhood with his family and friends. His willingness to kill without remorse seemingly born from his days as a soldier in WW2, articulating this himself by describing his hitman work as ‘like being at war’, although this idea isn’t really touched on upon much as the film progresses. Much like the last De Niro and Pacino film, Michael Mann’s Heat, the ramifications of these men’s life of crime on their families and loved ones is a heavy part of the narrative. Anna Paquin plays Peggy, one of Sheeran’s daughters who even from a young age shows clear discomfort with her fathers’ way of life, which for the most part Sheeran shows indifference to as he is fully engrossed in the mafia lifestyle. 

The film paces itself in a typical biopic fashion, although still manages to capture that Scorsese flair that we saw in Goodfellas, jumping seamlessly from ruthless killing to genuinely funny humour. Still shots of supporting characters with text explaining how they eventually died adds both comedic effect and highlights the danger of the world were exploring.  De Niro himself has described the film ‘as not just a story about the past, but a story of today’ in reference to the films tackling of political corruption, as it explores mafia connections to both the JFK and Nixon administrations going so far as to suggest what ‘truly’ happened with the JFK assassination as claimed by Sheeran in his book. Can it be in anyway proven? No, but an interesting rabbit hole to go down nonetheless and shows how deep this criminal underworld Sheeran has gotten himself into runs. Does it lull at all over its 3 and a half hour run time? (the longest film of Scorsese’s career) Of course it does, but never to the point of absolute boredom and looking back at it there’s nothing that immediately jumps to mind that I would have cut out as everything comes together for possibly the most meaningful final act of 2019. 

As a given in this genre it’s expected that Sheeran’s years of criminality will eventually catch up with him, but the finale is still incredibly engaging and the highlight of the film. Sheeran’s relationships with Buffalino and Hoffa come full circle and everything is played out masterfully by the actors involved. Despite seeing the return of Leonardo di Caprio and big talk of Oscar worthy performances from Joaquin Phoenix in Joker and Brad Pitt in AD Astra the performances of the year might actually have come from three men in their late 70s as DeNiro, Pesci and Pacino defy all sense of age. The chemistry between De Niro and Pacino in particular is incredible and if there was any doubt at all that these are two of the best of all time there certainly isn’t anymore. When these guys do decide to ultimately hang up their hats the film industry will absolutely be worse off for it. 

Does The Irishman re-invent the gangster movie genre in the same way the likes of Goodfellas has? No, but it didn’t need to. Over Scorsese’s long and famed career he knows exactly what works and what doesn’t and the film plays out like a brilliantly curated Greatest Hits album. The Irishman essentially acts as a victory lap for four men who’ve come to define this genre and after all these years they certainly deserve it. Take a bow boys. 

The Irishman hits limited theaters November 8th followed by release on Netflix November 27th

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