The Irishman is undoubtedly a Martin Scorsese cinema through and through. Clocking in at 209 minutes, this twilight piece de resistance funnels the director’s trademarks and signature theme—making a league with Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino. Extracted by Steven Zaillian from Charles Brandt’s book, ‘I Heard You Painted Houses’, the film reunites Scorsese with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci while gives the director the chance to collaborate with Al Pacino for the first time.
This whole gangster cinema, however, is more than a mere reunion; it’s a poignant victory lap for everyone involved. With a story that spans for five decades—going in and out from the 1950s to the 2000s, The Irishman follows the story of the titular man, Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a trucker turned a mafia hitman. The story is presented in a non-linear narrative with old Sheeran giving a reflecting Scorsesian voice-over as the mainframe. The experience is mostly detailed via Sheeran’s connection with underworld crime families, through Russell Buffalino (Pesci), and his involvement with Union Teamsters under Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
Sheeran’s whole story is not only personal; but it, at the same time, reflects the grey areas in American history. As the plot rolls on seamlessly from one pivotal moment to others, the political subtexts are latched onto it and providing much-needed contexts as well as motivation. The further the plot progresses, the richer it becomes with American history lessons that blend perfectly with Scorsese’s recurring theme of Italian-American and underworld crime lives, corruption, guilts, and Catholicism.
The director’s signature filmmaking, including the tracking shots, gives the narrative an omnipotent sense, which later transcends to a meditative reflection on how Scorsese views the events in his film. We should be thankful for Thelma Schoonmaker’s sensitive editing that makes The Irishman an epic. Schoonmaker’s cut voices the reflective and meditative elements that the film attempts to emanate. In the first two hours, we can feel the vivacity as Sheeran delves deeper into the criminal world. The vivacity turns into intensities as the lines between the good and evil blurred which might remind us of The Wolf of Wall Street. The turnover is not sudden but rather creeping; but, we can feel Sheeran’s guilt becomes to take certain shapes. It’s, however, Schoonmaker’s editing which helps us feel.
Scorsese, at the same time, showcases his compelling and persuasive art of directing. Within the massive duration, the director distributes the powerful moments realistically. The murder scenes are well-choreographed and progressive; but, so are the negotiation scenes, long dialogue exchanges or the baptism scenes. As for the actors—De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci, their performances here are pinnacles of their careers. For De Niro, this might be the back-to-back Scorsesian characters he portrayed after Todd Philips’ Joker; for Pacino and Pesci, this might be the finest performances they have in the last two decades. After all, just like what De Niro said, “Who knows if there’ll be anything after?”
It’s never been a simple reunion. The Irishman is not merely a Scorsese’s through-and-through gangster movie either. It’s a poignant reflection to the director’s career so far and a memento mori to De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci’s long and glowing career.