Quick Hit: A story about the reflections of age and your own perspective on your actions.
Martin Scorsese’s latest film is a deep reflection on two subjects that he has tackled throughout his entire career. The first is the mob, which he states he drew on his own personal experience as a child, and the second is a much deeper reflection of religion and our own actions. The latter part of his career seems to have pushed more into this second realm, but he uses The Irishman, which is currently available for streaming on Netflix, to build the two into a cohesive theme. What would happen if an aged mobster was reflecting on his own actions at the end of his life? What would he think of himself?
Scorsese pushes the envelope in this film (could it be his last?) in a number of ways. The first is his use of De-Aging technology to allow his main acting ensemble to play themselves throughout the movie in a story that spans 50 years. The second is the running time, which is an incredible 209 minutes. Both have their drawbacks and their benefits, but I think that overall, both end up serving as an overall benefits to the story. For one, after you get past the initial shock, the de-aging technology doesn’t really hurt the story, but it does allow you to follow some terrific actors through the whole story, without having to work to remember who is who in what scene. Secondly, the running time allows the story to ebb and flow, just as if you were really sitting with an elderly gentleman who was telling you a story. There’s a lot of tangents to this film, some of which you may find out were critical to the story, some that weren’t. But all of them are enjoyable and included because Frank thought they were important to pass along.
Let’s talk about the story overall. Boiled down to its barest elements, the story is of a young man named Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), who finds himself in the good graces of an Italian mob family run by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and eventually its dealings with Union Boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). This largely has to deal with the fact that Frank finds himself in the right places at the right times, but it also has to do with the fact that he is no nonsense and doesn’t have an issue with following orders. This is also at the expense of his family life (more on this in a minute) and frequently puts him into a position where he has different bosses all giving him orders, some of which may be conflicting. This gives DeNiro, who has fallen into a phase in his career where he has been called “sleepy” or “washed up”, the chance to give a cold nonchalance that perfectly fits the role of Frank. He isn’t a dumb character, but he plays the fool more than once, and allows other characters to think he’s dumb. It’s a brilliant move for a mobster, when so much of the game is what others think of you.
The acting really is tremendous throughout the film, with Pesci giving possibly my favorite performance of his career. Russell is extremely subdued throughout the film, which comes in direct contrast to what he frequently was in Scorsese’s other films. It’s this quiet intelligence, when coupled with Frank’s seeming dimness, that makes the two such a formidable pair. Pacino also excels as Hoffa, who was a larger than life character and perfectly fits Pacino’s skills. There’s also some stand out acting from some women that get shafted to the sides of the story, including from Anna Paquin as Frank’s daughter.
I think this is where the emotion of the story comes from. One of the first reactions that we see from Frank regarding his family is when he leaves his wife for a waitress, and doesn’t seem at all concerned about it. It’s this coldness that permeates his relationship with his daughters, particularly Peggy. Peggy has one of her first scenes as her father beats a man senseless in front of her, because of his treatment of her. It’s scenes like this that set the feelings moving, particularly when you see how the relationship between Hoffa and Peggy is one of love and trust. She respects what Jimmy does, but she despises her own father’s role in the community as an enforcer.
Throughout the film, I was pretty much entranced. Is it a bit too long? Maybe. But this long form storytelling is something that is not seen enough outside of television. I’m giving this one an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"