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A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.

Cast:  Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, Stephen Graham, Kathrine Narducci, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano

Directors: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Steven Zaillian (screenplay), Charles Brandt (based upon the book “I Hear You Paint Houses”)

The opportunity to see Martin Scorsese collaborate with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci again along with the addition of Al Pacino — working with Scorsese for the first time — is enough to salivate any cinema-buff. But in a world where Scorsese struggled to get the $170 million budget for the film, it’s certainly not a collaborative effort for monetary reasons. Scorsese has also returned to the well here and it’s understandable to question if he would have anything new to add to the genre he is most known for; the gangster genre he sits on top of for many people with his 90’s classic Goodfellas

Near the end of the monstrous three-and-a-half-hour runtime, Robert De Niro perfectly delivers one line that encapsulates The Irishman and what it’s about. “What kind of man would make that phone call?” He mutters to himself. The Irishman attempts to explore that: what kind of man is Frank Sheeran?

This film is a character study at a more minute level than Scorsese has gone before when compared to his other American-mafioso films and it’s less flashy for it. While Henry Hill in Goodfellas was young, full of energy and the film chronicled his sparkler erupt and eventually fade-away, The Irishman explores Frank Sheeran, a man that doesn’t even get involved in the Mafia until he’s in his 40’s. All of the characters in The Irishman are a lot quieter, slower and calmer — for the most part — and this isn’t just because the actors portraying them are in their 70’s. The film is also slower-paced and its runtime slowly devours you into its world and introduces you to these characters as you participate in often mundane conversations. If The Wolf of Wall Street was Martin Scorsese showing up to the frat house party, this is the cross-stitch he’s been working on at home for years.

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Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci all play their respective characters across this decades-spanning storey thanks to a special camera rig and work from the illustrious folks at ILM. It’s distracting the first time the film flashes back and a young De Niro appears on the screen, but you soon move past it thanks to the tremendous performance he gives in this film. The same is for Pacino and Pesci. A couple of scenes and moments do stick out like sore-thumbs however. An early scene sees De Niro’s apparent middle-aged man beating up a man with the energy of a 70 year and I would struggle at close-ups often with the eyes of all of the actors being colour-matched to the real-life counterparts of the characters their playing to middling success. The de-aging effect mostly hits though, and at worst is just good enough, but much like a bad makeup job, the actors carry the unbelievable parts and fill in the cracks. 

It’s De Niro’s movie as Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman that gets brought into the business by Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci in a much more mannered and calm performance when compared to his other Scorsese roles. There’s a tough exterior to Sheeran, he’s a man returning from war looking to make his own as many where in the early ’50s, but he’s not looking for a party. He has strong morals, a code that seems drilled into him from his time in the Army and helps him know his place when welcomed into the Bufalino crime family. He’s a working-man at heart and much like many men in America at the time this brings him to respect Jimmy Hoffa, the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, the biggest and first union of its kind. Hoffa is played by Al Pacino in The Irishman with an often scene-stealing performance; it’s simply the best he’s been in a decade.

In what could be a controversial decision, there is little-to-no female representation in The Irishman, even though Frank Sheeran’s family and his three daughters are a big part of the film. The eldest is played by Anna Paquin in her older years and she utters only a couple words the entire movie, but they’re haunting when she does and Paquin is a presence whenever she’s on-screen for what she represents to Sheeran. Mob films and TV series like The Sopranos have often explored the two-sided coin that is the mob family and home family, but The Irishman presents that relationship with a very dry reality about it, and there’s no sympathy from me as the film closes on Sheeran. 

The Irishman feels like Martin Scorsese’s last performance as he returns to what he knows so well and conducts some of the greatest actors of our time in one last act. I hope it’s not his last, he’s a fantastic filmmaker – The Irishman will, however, be considered one of his greatest hits when that curtain closes.