With all the conversations surrounding it on topics like Computer-Generated Imagery de-aging, Martin Scorsese’s comments about Marvel movies and its epic runtime, “The Irishman” has gotten tons of free press. There was already substantial hype, given the legendary director and cast of this film, but even more families may find themselves watching this picture over the holiday weekend, as it is on Netflix. Those people will find a good, flawed film.
“The Irishman,” which is based on a book by Charles Brandt titled “I Heard You Paint Houses,” follows the titular mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). The film chronicles his decades in the mafia world from his days working for Joe Pesci’s Russell Bufalino to his association with infamous union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
That trio of gangster movie superstars does good work here, with De Niro giving the best performance in the film. He is a bit too inscrutable for my taste for much of the film, but he is never uninteresting to watch. Then, in the last 45 minutes or so of the movie, his performance becomes quietly touching and authentic in away that sheds new light on what came before.
In supporting roles, Pesci and Pacino offer a little less but do well. Pacino, as he often does, goes pretty big, but it works for the character. He still has enough charisma to make viewers understand why people are drawn to Hoffa. Pesci, who came out of retirement for this picture, gives a quieter, more subdued performance, but he has a certain controlled quality about him that fits the role.
Scorsese as director is also working near the top of game, adapting his trademark style so that it aligns with this film in away most clearly scene in his tracking shots. There are some scenes where the camera moves along with the action to make it more exciting, but it mostly glides along with these characters to give the film a wistful, elegiac feeling that makes sense.
Another visual element that works well is the much ballyhooed CGI de-aging done on the leads. It is jarring and takes you out of the movie when it makes these men in their 70s look many decades younger. But when it only turns back the clock a few years, it’s virtually unnoticeable, which is quite impressive.
Even with that technical wizardry, perhaps the most striking element of “The Irishman” is how contemplative it becomes in those final 45 minutes. After a terrifically suspenseful scene involving a car ride in Detroit, the film becomes a thoughtful, moving mediation on aging, consequences, mortality and loneliness. That culminates in an ambiguous final shot that is either extremely tragic or leaves just enough room for hope.
Unfortunately, Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zallian take too long to get to this point. With its almost 3.5 hour runtime, some of the scenes of mob life that are meant to be glamorous and enjoyable are not as captivating as they should be. The movie is entertaining, but it eventually gets close to wearing out its welcome.
Granted, that could be intentional. De Niro’s character never really seems to take pleasure in his work, and some of the power of the ending comes from spending enough time with him that we truly feel like we’ve lived this full life alongside him. But it still seems somewhat redundant, as we get that sense after about 2 hours, and there is still another approximately 45 minutes before the film gets to that excellent last act.
Still, there are worse ways to spend 3.5 hours. The performances, particularly De Niro’s, are effective, the visuals are interesting and the ending is masterful. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
“The Irishman” is rated R for pervasive language and strong violence. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci and runs 3 hours and 29 minutes.