Who wouldn’t want to hear Robert De Niro tell a story? I bet the man himself has some great stories to tell about his life. Well, renowned director Martin Scorsese gives De Niro the stage to tell the story of a very different kind in, The Irishman.
Jimmy Hoffa. Many of you, myself included, will know the name, but how many of you know the story? I confess, not me, I knew the name but that was about as far as it goes. I couldn’t have told you a thing about the man.
In The Irishman, Hoffa is front and centre thanks to a stunning portrayal by Al Pacino (“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood“, “Hangman“) as the former labor union leader who, in July of 1975, vanished off the face of the earth.
Scorsese directs, from a script by Steven Zaillian (“Moneyball”, “Gangs Of New York”) which is based on the book by Charles Brandt titled, “I heard you paint houses”, as they give us their own take on this, still unsolved, mystery.
This is a gorgeous film, make no mistake, from the sixties and seventies settings and cars, to the way Scorsese provides the view into this world, it’s masterful. What Scorsese does with the cameras here is a pure masterclass, the first hour or so in particular.
With the camera firmly on De Niro, he begins to tell us his life story. From humble beginnings as a meat delivery driver, to his rise through the underworld to be one of the most trusted men in the Philadelphia mob.
Frank Sheeran’s (De Niro) rise is largely down to his friendship with Russell Bufalino, the excellent Joe Pesci (“Goodfellas”, “My Cousin Vinny”), who Frank meets via his brother Bill, Ray Romano (“The Big Sick”, “Everybody Loves Raymond (TV)”), a lawyer.
At the top of the food chain, or at least, as far as we know, is Angelo Bruno, Harvey Keitel (“Isle Of Dogs“, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), though don’t expect to see much of him.
What we do see is an intricate tale, woven by masters of their craft, performed by masters of their craft. As Sheeran moves up the food chain his network becomes wider, his respect more widely known, and this brings him into the fold of Hoffa, who is having some trouble with a few things.
Sheeran and Hoffa become great friends, going through thick and thin together, with Sheeran often playing middleman as, although he loves Hoffa, there aren’t many that do. That’s because Hoffa has a habit of speaking out, he’s a tad hot headed and doesn’t hold back, regardless of whom he’s talking to, or about. When you’re dealing with the mob, that’s not good.
As Hoffa continues to rub people up the wrong way, it becomes more and more difficult for Sheeran to calm him down and he constantly finds himself caught in the middle, in the end, it’s the worst place to be.
The story is a delight, the directing a powerhouse and the performances are stunning. Yes, it is long (some 3.5 hours), but that doesn’t lessen the delight you get from watching this tale be told.
We must come to the de-aging that you may, or may not, have heard so much about. As this lengthy film spans such a long time, Scorsese de-ages the majority of his cast, and also ages them at times too.
You see, The Irishman isn’t a linear timeline, we are often in an Inception of reminiscing and so you may go from present day De Niro, to much younger De Niro, to in the middle De Niro, with Pacino and Pesci following suit.
It works, and it works well. That’s not to say that, at times, De Niro in particular can look like a character from a computer game cut-scene, he does. It’s mostly the eyes and the mouth that do it, they aren’t quite there, but still, it is stunning to see.
It helps the story as well, providing a visual clue as to which era mob we are looking at at one time. Speaking of story, you may be expecting me to say things are slow and turgid, well they aren’t. Sure, this is a long film and I imagine at the cinema it would have been a tough call. But at home, it’s absolutely fine and whilst you know it is long, it isn’t like you can point to a section and say, “they could have left that bit out”. It’s all required.
A couple of scenes I love in particular: there’s a section where De Niro needs to perform a hit, we see him make his gun choice, whilst he talks us through it, and then the actual hit, and we hear why he’s made the decisions he does. It’s a wonderful scene.
There’s also a delightful car scene involving De Niro, Pacino, Jesse Plemons (“Vice“, “Bridge Of Spies“) and Louis Cancelmi (“Billions (TV)”, “Blue Bloods (TV)”) in which the conversation turns to something inane, in this case fish, when you know something bad is going to happen. It reminded me greatly of Tarantino and his sorts of talking scenes right before something goes down.
The Irishman is an absolute treat and Netflix must receive a well-deserved pat on the back for giving everyone involved the chance to make this film, when so many others turned their backs.