He’s back. Our king of Netflix & Chill – Lewis Pearce with his latest review.
The Irishman delivers another classic to Scorsese’s filmography.
A gorgeous tracking shot. A bullet to the head. Mere minutes into Netflix’s new crime epic and one thing is already for certain: Martin Scorsese is back. The Irishman is Scorsese’s return to the mob world, his first foray in the genre since winning his well overdue first Academy Award for the excellent 2006 Best Picture winner The Departed.
To me, I’ve always wanted to see the biggest and most-talked about movie releases on the big screen. The fact that streaming juggernaut Netflix are slowly beginning to compete with cinema, with an array of new movies with big stars and budgets behind them, worries me for the future. Yet for a film like The Irishman, Netflix was the perfect platform for it to be released. There was no way any major film studio would give Scorsese the budget he desired (especially after his last film Silence bombed at the box office) but Netflix came calling and gave him free reign to make the film his way. What Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Moneyball, Schindler’s List) have created is a new gangster classic, but never like we’ve seen before. The film never shies away from the murders involved, but the action takes a definitive backseat for a beautiful story of family, power and ultimately regret.
Based on the 2004 non-fiction book I Heard You Paint Houses (which is also the onscreen title of the movie during the first act) we follow Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a truck driver who soon becomes a hitman and gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
The film clocks in at a whopping 3 hours and 29 minutes, a running time which is sure to put many off from seeing it. Yet despite its lengthy run time, the film never drags or becomes boring, with sharp editing and good pacing meaning you always stay invested. I think this movie could have been shorter, but it’s difficult to pinpoint many scenes which you would cut, each sequence serving a purpose for the engrossing story at play here.
The film would be nowhere near as mesmerising without a stellar ensemble cast, led by three acting heavyweights who all deliver Oscar-worthy performances. Joe Pesci, who came out of a 20-year retirement to star in the film, shows why he is one of the greats, returning to our screens with a menacing yet subtle performance. Al Pacino, working with Scorsese for the very first time, is the loud-mouthed labour leader Hoffa, perfecting his character’s charming yet ignorant persona that got him to a position of authority.
However, the film belongs to Robert De Niro. De Niro is one of the best actors of all time, starring in more classics than I have fingers, yet here he puts in his best performance in years. This is the 9th collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese, but their first since 1995’s Casino, and it’s great seeing these two team up again. De Niro’s role here isn’t flashy or extravagant, it’s very much a quiet and understated performance, as Sheeran always stays cool and calm even under immense pressure.
One of the reasons why no studio other than Netflix would fund Scorsese was because he wanted all three leads to use a highly expensive de-aging CGI technology, which would help show these characters at different ages in their life, as the film spans a long period of time. It’s a risk which pays off for the $159 Million production.
Admittedly, it does take a few scenes to get used to it and a flashback to a young De Niro in World War II looks more video game than real life, but for the most part it looks fantastic.
Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci are 76 years old. Pacino is 79. You’d think at their age their quality would begin to fall away, but instead they’ve all put in their best work in a very long time and created a stunning film. A triumph.
Verdict: Easily the best film Netflix has ever released, this beautiful, bold and breath-taking gangster epic is sure to be a serious contender come awards season. Anchored by three stellar lead performances and excellent direction from Scorsese, despite its meaty run time – this is not to be missed.
Best Moment: De Niro takes care of some business in a café.