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3 ½ (out of 4)
Martin Scorsese is a great director whose magnitude is under ceaseless reappraisal and so his superior touch must reestablish itself as new ventures rectify the compounded weight of a filmography stretching over half a century. It’s been a decade of providence for Scorsese with vigorous, extravagant epics and purposeful passion projects (Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence, you decide which is which) leading to The Irishman. Despite its shortcomings as a late, indulgent excerpt alongside a seismic oeuvre and within the tradition of the gangster film, the film is nonetheless another autumnal masterstroke fashioned out of each and every one of Scorsese’s convictions and practicalities.
The Irishman is flimsiest when the story must adhere to the unavoidable if oftentimes impressively accomplished digital de-aging, but the extreme expense behind the Netflix-backed undertaking is otherwise exhausted on the integral things – substantial period reproduction in the sets and costumes, thoroughly convincing make-up design and premiere acting talent. The informal narration, discreet editing and cold humor are as blistering as the subjective historical commentary and vicious violence – all the elements adding up to Scorsese the auteur are fully functional, though whether or not we have an indispensable cinematic exploit on our hands will be long in dispute.
Will this endure as immaculately as the fundamental gangster benchmarks of Francis Ford Coppola, Sergio Leone or Quentin Tarantino? The Irishman has its own exposé and its own history, and Scorsese never appears to tire of forming new questions of conscience and hefty, mythically complex portraits. His dedication to the apathetic reality of Philadelphia hitman Frank Sheeran’s story is as effectual as his dissections of other nefarious personages in crime history or the seedier exploits of his own experiences that snuck into his early efforts like Mean Streets.
Robert De Niro, in his ninth collaboration with Scorsese, is somewhat worse for wear despite his devotion and while Joe Pesci outshines him in general, both actors posit the greater empathy the closer they play to their real age – de-aging technology is aways from perfection and even when the CGI is passable the actors are more organic when they're not pretending to live in anything other than their own skin (and a wee bit of makeup). Al Pacino is the film's strongest asset as Jimmy Hoffa and, even with a legendary career founded on heralded, iconic performances (Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather films, Scarface, etc.), he’s still an actor to be reckoned with as he ruggedly operates a classically tragic arc.
No matter if you think 3 ½ hours of mobster ethos is too much, The Irishman is so assured, authoritative and abundantly entertaining it’s enough to have you reassessing and reacquainting yourself with the mighty scope of Scorsese’s body of work. Personal favorites like The Last Temptation of Christ and After Hours inch up on the rewatch list, his most cherished films (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) demand another bout of evaluation – how superfluous was Casino after all? – and I’ve never felt more compelled to fill in the blanks with The Age of Innocence, New York, New York or Who’s That Knocking At My Door? In short, if you really are only as good as your last movie, Scorsese is doing pretty well for himself. And after fifty years of supremacy why should he quit now?
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Invisible Man
and overdue takes on
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice