Director Martin Scorsese had for THE IRISHMAN Acting titans like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in front of the camera. The names of the four Oscar winners alone give hope for great cinema. In our review we reveal whether the mafia drama can really keep this promise.
In the end everything comes to light…
The plot summary
The 80-year-old World War II veteran and ex-truck driver Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) looks back on his life. This really only begins when he starts working as a bill collector, thug and hitman for Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) in the 1960s. Although Frank is “only” of Irish and not Italian descent, the Cosa Nostra boss takes a great liking to the young man because of his unscrupulous efficiency and absolute loyalty. One day, Bufalino puts him at the side of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), a union leader who is linked to organized crime, as a confidant and bodyguard. A close friendship quickly develops between the men, which remains even when the official ends up in prison for years for corruption and fraud. After his release, the power-hungry Hoffa immediately wants to return to the top of his association. However, Bufalino has long had other plans for him, which Frank is now supposed to put into action…
The Irishman Movie Meaning & ending
Over the course of his career, which began in the Sixties, Martin Scorsese has produced profound tragicomedies, intense character dramas, nerve-racking psychological thrillers, stylish literary adaptations, religious epics, fascinating bio-pics, benchmark concert films, various highly interesting, committed documentaries, and a historical love story Film noir musical, perfidious black humor and even a tear-jerking, family-friendly cartoon. Nevertheless, for most film fans, the New Yorker’s name is synonymous with stories about and about organized crime. No wonder, since he is the creator of such unforgettable, genre-defining monuments as “Hexenkessel”, “Good Fellas”, “Casino”, “Gangs Of New York” and “Departed”. 13 years after the latter, “The Irishman” joins this parade. And that despite the fact that the film is made in a much different, much more unconventional way than the aforementioned masterpieces.
The important conversations take place over dinner…
In 2004, “I Heard You Paint Houses”, a true crime book by the American ex-lawyer and private investigator Charles Brandt, was published. Oscar winner Robert De Niro (“Taxi Driver,” “The Godfather II”) read the volume and was immediately fascinated by protagonist Frank Sheeran and his full confession about a one-time career as a hitman for the mafia in northeastern Pennsylvania. Sheeran seems to have been a kind of real-life Forrest Gump of the underworld just outside New York. In any case, according to his own statement, he and his cronies were not only responsible for the “disappearance” of Jimmy Hoffa, but also for the election and later assassination of John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon’s presidency, attempted assassination of Fidel Castro and various other major historical events. De Niro contacted his close friend and frequent collaborator Scorsese to tell him about the book. The director shared his enthusiasm for the material, acquired the exploitation rights for the cinema and began making preparations for a film adaptation in 2007. However, due to lengthy research, tons of script revisions and waiting for further progress in the CGI area, it took ten years until author Steve Zaillian (Oscar winner for “Schindler’s List”) presented a finished script to Scorsese and De Niro, who also worked as a producer and it could finally start.
Waiting for CGI technology to improve was essential because Scorsese planned his film to be told in flashbacks: a Sheeran sitting in a nursing home speaks while the audience sees flashbacks to various points in his life. The director wanted all the important characters to be played by the same actors throughout, without having to resort to make-up effects that were too obvious and thus detrimental to credibility. The so-called digital “de-aging” has previously been used in superhero films such as “Aquaman” , “Avengers: Endgame” and “Captain Marvel” . De Niro has also been rejuvenated in this way before, when he and Sylvester Stallone competed against each other in the sports dramedy “Two of the Old Style”. But never before were the sequences as long, extensive, diverse and fundamental to the final result as Scorsese imagined and ultimately realized them.
The wait was worth it because the illusion works brilliantly. The faces of De Niro, Pesci, Pacino & Co. look like they do in their old roles; almost as if the legends had actually filmed the sequences two, three or four decades earlier. There are only minor problems when the entire body is in the picture and the figure moves quickly. Unfortunately, at these points you notice a little that the whole thing is manipulated. For example, in the sequence where Sheeran, almost 40, beats up another person. De Niro was already in his mid-70s at the time of filming and that is obvious. He moves according to his age and, understandably, his motor skills are no longer as supple as they were when he played boxer Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” in 1980.
“The Irishman” is still thoroughly recommended. Also because Martin Scorsese, at almost 80 years old, is still good for surprises. He proves this with a film that is, for him, refreshingly different, in an astonishing way that is, in the end, immensely emotionally moving. He takes his time and deliberately focuses on developing a dense atmosphere with the help of a very slow pace. There are hardly any shootings, most acts of violence are carried out “short and painless”, almost in passing, or even occur beyond the audience’s field of vision. In contrast to “Good Fellas” or “Casino”, being a gangster is anything but romanticized or glamorized here. We can tell from the fact that Frank apparently ends up lonely and alone in a shabby retirement home. In addition, each new character introduced into the plot is accompanied by a subtitle that details the date and manner of their death, which is estimated to be 95% unnatural. These elements, unusual for Scorsese’s oeuvre, contribute a lot to making the whopping 210 (!) minutes pass surprisingly quickly. Another reason for the entertaining nature is the wonderfully dry, humorous moments that are never inappropriately interspersed. For example, when absurd gangster nicknames are made fun of in the dialogues, the feared mafiosos fail to forbid their wives from smoking cigarettes in the car, or Hoffa at a hearing with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Jack Huston, “Ben-Hur”) refused to say anything in a deliciously creative way.
Ultimately, the main attraction of “The Irishman” is neither the amazing computer technology nor the outrageous plot points that may be true or perhaps just brazenly invented or embellished by Sheeran, who died in 2003, but the actors. It’s simply a delight De Niro, Pacino (“Scent of Women”, “Every Damn Sunday”) and – after far too long a break – finally Pesci again (“My Cousin Winnie”, “Lethal Weapon 4”) interact, speak their perfectly timed dialogues and elegantly advance the plot. Whether digitally trimmed to look young or as mature men – the trio dominates the screen together and completely captivates the viewer. They are supported by not always particularly extensive, but strong and memorable performances from supporting actors like Ray Romano (“Everyone Loves Raymond”)Anna Paquin (“The Piano”)Bobby Cannavale (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”)Jesse Plemons (“Breaking Bad”) and Harvey Keitel (“Pulp Fiction”).
Conclusion: Thanks to the confident and virtuoso imaginative work of one of the greatest directors in cinema history, his breathtaking cast, brilliant dialogue and astonishing, modern technology, the three and a half hours of this extraordinary gangster drama almost fly by.
“The Irishman” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from November 14th and worldwide via video-on-demand via Netflix from November 27th, 2019.