cinema · LFF19

Film review: The Irishman

The ninth collaboration between legendary pairing Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro and their first in over twenty years, mob drama The Irishman has been a long time coming. Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by true crime writer Charles Brandt, the plot centres around Frank Sheeran (De Niro), the eponymous WWII veteran turned hitman. From meeting mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) to his complicated friendship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the sprawling epic tracks the life and times of the mercilessly loyal footsoldier.

With the narrative told through flashbacks that span around sixty years, impressive ageing and de-ageing technology is implemented to capture the various periods of Frank’s story. This adds to the impeccable attention to detail of the entire production, establishing the grand scale which is complimented by patient pacing. Scorsese’s signature slickness and style is intact throughout but the gangster glamour is stripped back to emphasise the lonely melancholy that also comes as part and parcel of involvement in organised crime.

 Remarkably this is Al Pacino’s first appearance in a Scorsese picture, but the acclaimed filmmaker has rallied the troops from his previous works to form an almighty cast. De Niro has always excelled under Scorsese’s direction and this is no exception. Cautious and subdued in personality, deftly and dangerously efficient with his task at hand, he delivers an experienced, outstanding performance that serves as a much-welcomed reminder of his excellence as an actor.

 Alongside the protagonist, Pesci is unusually yet chillingly quiet in his masterful turn as the calculating ‘made man’ Bufalino, and Pacino showcases a full throttle display as charismatic politician Hoffa, filled to the brim with his trademark energy. From the stellar supporting roles, Stephen Graham shines the brightest as flashy motormouth Tony Provenzano. He brilliantly channels the unpredictable volatility of a young Pesci and though his screen-time is somewhat limited, his intense exchanges with Pacino are among the finest scenes in the piece.

 Presenting the mobster life as a rich tapestry of violence, corruption, and lingering sorrow, The Irishman marks a reflective curtain call in the Scorsese saga of crime movies. It’s an emotional film that breathes deeply, speaks softly, and demands your undivided attention. Not a single frame goes to waste in this magnificent coup de maître of cinema.

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