Review by Dan Skip Allen
Childhood can bring a lot of different emotions and things that shape a young person's life. I discovered Scorsese pictures at a young age. Around the age of six, I saw my first Scorsese film: Raging Bull! From that moment on, I was enamored with this director. He told stories about people that seemed real to me, even as a little boy. Films like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver were about grounded people you could meet any day of the week, month, or year. That said, Jake LaMotta was more real as any character I've ever seen in my life.
Yes, Raging Bull was about a middle-weight boxer who had legendary fights with Sugar Ray Robinson, but he was more than that to me. I could relate to him as a person outside the ring. When Jake was arguing about his wife over cooking his steak, that was my father and mother. When he would leave at night and leave Vickie home with the kids and she didn't know where he was going, that was my family. My father rarely came home, and when he did, he and my mother fought like cats and dogs. The violent scene when Jake attacked Joey was reminiscent of my father as well. Anger ran in the family — I had anger issues growing up my entire life until I channeled it into positive things like writing and listening to music.
Taxi Driver really hit home for me because of the fact that Travis Bickle was a misunderstood loner. I could relate once again because I am very similar to him in a lot of ways. I live by myself and I have for quite a while. I am not fond of people that much. Of course people are a necessary evil when going places like restaurants and movie theaters, and in working environments when you have to deal with a lot of people you don't like. Travis found a mission though when he tried to save Iris from Sport. He was also very odd and obnoxious when dealing with Betsey. Scorsese would later revisit this strange odd type of caricature with The King of Comedy, in which De Niro again portrayed the awkward oddball. Both characters don't know when they've gone too far or when to take no for an answer, largely because they are both introverts and don't get the interaction with people that would help them develop people skills better.
Scorsese would eventually return to gangster pictures after his first foray into them with Mean Streets. Goodfellas would once again team him with his friends De Niro, Pesci, and Frank Vincent for this film about Henry Hill, a mobster famously turned FBI informant. Scorsese painted a picture of this glamorous lifestyle and I was hooked from the beginning. The scene where Henry was escorting Karen through the Copacabana with the song "Then He Kissed Me" by The Crystals playing over them was the scene that cinched it for me. This movie was a masterpiece. Scorsese would return once again to this genre with Casino and later The Departed, once again re-teaming with De Niro for the last time until The Irishman. Scorsese and De Niro (with some help from Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino) defined this genre.
The Irishman is the latest gangster film in Scorsese’s long history in the genre, but it's a different kind of gangster film than has been brought to the screen before. The Godfather films and Scorsese's own Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed feature a lot more blood and violence than The Irishman. Even though a couple of these films are based in reality, none of them have been as realistic a take on this genre as The Irishman. Scorsese could only make this film at this point in his storied career as a filmmaker. He crafted an absolute masterpiece!
The Irishman picks up with Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) at a nursing home as he is telling his life story to a priest. His story spans 7 decades, from WWII to the 2010's. During that time, he goes from being a truck driver for the teamsters to a hit man for the mob. Frank meets a lot of notable faces during that time as well. Some of them are Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Angelo Bruno (Harvey Kietel) Felix "Skinny Razor" Ditullio (Bobby Cannavale), Anthony Provenzano (Stephan Graham), Bill Buffalino (Ray Romano), and most notably Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Most of the heavy lifting in The Irishman is done by De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, who all give Oscar-worthy performances. De Niro and Pesci give more subdued performances than they have in the past working with Scorsese. Pacino, on the other hand, gives the kind of performance people have come to expect from him. He makes this character of Jimmy Hoffa loud and noticeable for all to see. Without all of these terrific performances from these screen legends, this film wouldn't work. They are the best performances these three have given in decades. It reminds you how great they really are and why they are among some of the greatest living actors.
I've never seen a film that touches on themes like this in this film in this way before. Steve Zallian adapts the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. This source material says everything. In turn, everything was on the page for Scorsese to craft a retrospective tale of real men. They deal with real issues that affected the country, their families, their friends, and thousands of other people. This film deals with aging, loyalty, and friendship to an extent that has never been done before.
Scorsese has dealt with the genre of gangster films in so many different ways during his career, but The Irishman is on a whole new level. The subtle way he deals with violence is masterful. The grace in which he deals with aging is only able to be done by someone of his age and stature. The Irishman is like an amalgamation of Goodfellas and Silence. He dealt with a de-aging technology that has been previously used very sparingly in a few MCU films. It's mostly effective and becomes nearly unnoticeable after about fifteen minutes.
Additionally, despite the film’s three-and-a-half-hour length, it goes by so quickly. That takes a master filmmaker who can make you not realize how long the film is. The Irishman is a masterpiece of filmmaking in every sense of the word. It is the culmination of so many great people's careers. That includes Thelma Shoonmaker, who does a phenomenal job editing this film. This is easily the best film of the year and deserves many Academy Awards.
Scorsese has etched his way into the annals of film lore with his filmography. He helped create the gangster genre with Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed and shepherded some of the greatest actors of all time with Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. He made some of the greatest films of all time and experimented with new technologies. His work as a preserver of film is also commendable, as he created a group to help save old and forgotten films. Martin Scorsese is a legend and modern auteur in every way!
The Irishman is now playing in theaters and hits Netflix on November 27.