Film Review: THE IRISHMAN (USA 2019) ****

The Irishman Poster

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


Martin Scorsese


Charles Brandt (book), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

Arguably the most powerhouse of all films made this year, THE IRISHMAN features the film industry’s biggest names that include multiple Academy Award Winners in its cast and crew.  Director Martin Scorsese directs high profile stars seldom or never seen together in the same frame in a movie.  Robert De Niro stars alongside Al Pacino (both of whom shot to fame after Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER II films) with Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel.  

But the full title of the film, as seen in the opening and closing credits is THE IRISHMAN, I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, based on the book of that name by Charles Brandt.  The main protagonist of the film is the Irishman of the film title, Frank Sheeran played by De Niro who is obviously Irish by blood.  When the film opens he and pal, Russell Bufalino (Pesci) are having a road trip with their wives on way to attend a wedding.  As they stop their car for their wives to have s smoke, Frank realizes that it is the same spot he and Russ had first met. Through flashbacks it is revealed that the wedding is a disguise for them performing  a peace mission that ends up as a vicious killing.  How and why the situation had come to reach this stage is the film’s story.  And it is not a pretty story.

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in postwar America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious underworld figures of the 20th century.  Spanning decades, the film chronicles the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) — which remains unsolved to this day — and journeys through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics.

THE IRISHMAN clocks in 3 and a half hours.  Director Scorcese remarked that when he Scorcese has been quoted to say that the people at Netflix are excellent.  The rest is a film that Scorcese can indulge in.  Though the film is a long haul, Scorcese gets to tell the story his way, his style.  When one analyzes many of his set-ups, one can see his attention to detail and the brilliance of Scorcese’s craft.  He tells a story while impacting emotions in the larger realm of things, and told with dead pan humour with the added bonus of a great soundtrack, put together by Robbie Robertson.  Never mind that the film turns a bit difficult to follow at times – Scorcese doesn’t care, but continues his passion of telling his story.  The result is a crime story told from one person’s point of view – Frank Sheeran’s and one very effective one at that.  The effect of the man on his family particularly on his daughters notably Peggy (Paquin) who refuses to talk or see him is devastating and the only thing that makes him regret his life.  The final scenes showing him speaking candidly to a priest (shades of Scorcese’s SILENCE) trying to extol himself from the sins committed in his life.

Th film uses CGI to ‘youthify’ De Niro, Pesci and Pacino for their character in their younger days.  This de-ageing process looks effective enough to enable the 75 year-old actors to play their younger years.

De Niro and Pacino are superb playing off each other.  Pacino’s Hoffa is volatile, loud, insulting and gregarious compared as compared to De Niro’s Frank who is smart, cunning, silent but deadly.  It is pure pleasure to see both De Niro and Pacino together in a single scene and there are quite a few of these in the film.

THE IRISHMAN is a must-see crime drama, not because it is true or could be true, but for Scorcese’s craft with the Master is still at his peak.

THE IRISHMAN opens for a limited engagement at the TIFFBel Lightbox before streaming on Netflix.



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