The Irishman (2019)

The culmination of a legendary filmmaker’s career building a genre to surgically deconstruct it over 3.5 glorious hours – with a nuanced, emotionally-powerful, craftsman allegorical reflection on growing old & life’s consequences. A Mafia showpiece for the ages. 9.5/10.

Plot Synopsis: In the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran gets involved with Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa — a powerful Teamster tied to organized crime.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review

Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino.. Move Over [Blockbusters], Scorsese’s *Back*

Martin Scorsese. Master auteur behind some of the screen’s most iconic pictures from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas to Raging Bull to Casino. The man built a 50+-year portfolio of masterful cinema with Roman Catholic and Italian-American experiential bases one could easily hang up the cape on, retiring peacefully to an island somewhere with a guaranteed place on the Mt. Rushmore Of Filmmaking. However, the Queens-born legend doesn’t like to play it safe – as his recent Marvel comments proved, provoking his own raging bull calling the popular film franchise fast-food/theme-park entertainment and ‘not [real] cinema’ – deciding to roll the dice once again for something bigger and better. A 3 1/2 hour Mafia flick that aims to not only further define, but redefine the gangster film genre he helped mold from flickers altogether – on Netflix of all places (with a limited theatrical release in exclusive cities nationwide), that bet hit a jackpot: a Scorsesean event that’s like the Avengers: Endgame of crime cinema tying together his already-mythic resumé and directorial experience. The culmination of a legendary filmmaker’s career building a genre only to surgically deconstruct it over 3.5 glorious hours – with an emotionally-powerful reflection on growing old & life’s consequences steeped in proud Italian heritage, rich experimentalism in score, & masterpiece De Niro performance (perhaps his best work *ever*), The Irishman is a Mafia showpiece for the ages and one of the greatest films of the decade.

Deconstructing The Genre He Spent A Prolific Career Defining

Deconstructing the genre he spent a career defining. The Irishman’s greatest strength is not in its organized crime portrayal (striking in its own right with gasp-inducing violence amongst the dimlit night-set streets of inner-city Philadelphia), it’s in what happens around it. We’re introduced to a normal truck driver whose car breaks down in the middle of a job, us carted off to a nearby gas stationm and gets involved by-accident in the underground world of mafia dealings. As he rises up the ranks, we expect his life to get better – subject to perks like wealth and power afforded by his status/title – yet we see inklings of regret and contempt start to pollute the seemingly-glamorous canvas swirling about him. His own kids look visibly afraid of him, best friends taken to the grave by others’ – or even his – hands, and families torn apart by merciless violence set off at even the slightest of comments to the consigliere. Never before has there been such a self-aware, self-analytic crime drama or mobster flick – and it’s only right that the man who first popularized and sculpted the genre is the surgeon now deconstructing it. There’s even an experimental mix of sounds and timbre wholly unlike anything ever tried before in the genre beneath all the power struggle: a romance film-feeling blend of silky-smooth marimba, liquid jazz, and even Colombian merengue for one of the airiest and most hypnotic scores I’ve ever heard, relaxing you into a deep massage working with the bright visuals and even a good dosage of (surprising) humour to create a stunningly-palatable, easy tone that feels the veritable antithesis of what we expect from dark, violent Mafia flicks. Showing the genre can be so much more, Scorsese has struck gold here tonally – purposely so to reflect its screenplay’s nature.

A Re-Union Of Storied Cast-Mates Behind Perhaps The Best Performance Of De Niro’s Life

The performances in The Irishman are nothing sort of Oscar-defining, with an unrivaled pedigree of acting by a class at the top of their careers & fields, traversing (and owing much of their early success & current status to) Scorsese’s flicks now coming back full-circle for one last illustrious hurrah. De Niro leads the pack with one of [if not THE] greatest performance of his *entire career* as mild-mannered Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran, thrown into Hitchcockian-extraordinary circumstances most of us could only even dream (nightmares) about. His immaculate character development over the film from adorable pushover average joe to cold-blooded, ruthless killer carrying out hits on his closest friends to contemplative shell of a dying man who can’t recognize himself in the mirror or even bring himself to feel anything is nothing short of miraculous storytelling evocative of some of the purest, most intense emotion and cathexis any film will invoke in you – guaranteed. It is the only film this year that actually moved me to tears, the poignance and life’s story chord it strikes is so powerful & tangible. The support outside De Niro’s masterclass in (spectacularly-aged/deaged) charismatic lead is equally sensational – from Joe Pesci’s chillingly-calm, nuanced Bufalino able to order hits on close allies one second and go bowling with family the next, Al Pacino’s breathtakingly-funny Jo Hoffa stretching comedic muscles we never even knew he had in mercilessly-hilarious gags from the lateness/shorts meeting to Bobby Kennedy fiasco to ice cream (lots of ice cream), Ray Romano’s organized crime shyster lawyer, Bobby Canavale’s steak-obsession, & Anna Paquin’s traumatized Peggy having to grow up a child in such inexorable family-bedlam.

The Emotional Gravitas & Contemplative Intellectualism On Existential Themes

The emotional gravitas and contemplative intellectualism on display in Scorsese’s new epic dazzle beyond compare over its genre-kin. The film is in a league all its own because of how it transcends convetion, going meta/above-and-beyond to take a magnifying glass and psychiatrist’s pen to the organized crime film instead of just being subjected to its rules. We are taken outside the action for an omniscient, God-like view of the matter – and how such senseless violence affects the exponential circles of people around them, on *both* sides. Themes of grief, pride, masculinity, family, conscience, guilt, Roman Catholicism, protection, sacrifice, legacy, survival, Italian & Irish-American cultural experience, justice, afterlife, and growing old are thrown around spectacularly – as Scorsese heavily-waxes on philosophical and psychological topics at the core of what we view as the human experience with the skill of a late-age master in full control of his craft. Not only are the families of victims of organized crime – as well as its own members all meeting grotesque, violent endings sooner or later with amusing (black comedic) obituary-like death descriptions under every side mobster cameo to point out the machine’s insatiable lust for carnage of all involved – shed light on, but as traumatized & torn apart are the families within it.

An Omniscient, Godlike View Of Organized Crime – How It Affects Both Families Within (& Without)

Children feel unable to even have a conversation with their father or go to their parents with a slight problem in fear some person making just one mistake won’t be coming home to their wife and kids that night. You see your dad break the knuckles of and leave a grocery store clerk screaming in the streets for simply a light push, and get a burning suspicion your lifelong-family friend/uncle might’ve been taken out at your own father’s bidding. How can you recover from growing up in such extreme ill-normalcy? How does it affect you as a person? The frame story hearing a dying elderly Sheeran recount his life story to anyone who will listen in a nursing home – at the last stages of the journey wherein his own kids won’t even return his calls and he has no one left by his side – will knock you back in your seat by how emotionally-rich & Earth-shaking its power is. A reflection on growing old and the consequences of our life’s actions, wherein we see the other side of the coin away from the ritz, power, & glamour typically at the forefront of crime films, this masterpiece of slow-simmering, provocative, gripping storytelling leaves us with one burning question lingering long after the credits roll: when you look back on your life, will all you did really be worth it?

The One Flaw – Length

The only conceivable flaw in The Irishman: length. 3.5 hours is a DAUNTING proposition no matter how you slice it, and while I absolutely adored the chef d’oeuvre butterflied before me by a masterchef in the late stages of his legendary career, most people aren’t film critics. Being completely honest, the middle act does self-indulge a bit with Teamster/union gags that could’ve been ~15-20 minutes trimmed for the betterment of all involved, but this is castigatory nitpick of needle-in-a-haystack proportions – in what’s otherwise a complete masterstroke of cinema.

Conclusion

The Most Powerful, Experiential, Heavy Gangster Film Of All-Time. A Masterpiece.

Overall, The Irishman is perhaps the most powerful, experiential, intellectually-heavy gangster film of All-Time – proving the genre can be so much more than shocking violence and hit jobs in a web of organized crime deceit. It’s the 2nd best film of Scorsese’s career behind Taxi Driver in CLC’s opinion and a late-age chef d’oeuvre powerfully and emotionally-glimpsing into what happens *beyond* the mob action – with families of those in it perhaps just as torn apart as those at the barrel’s end of their revolvers. The culmination of a legendary filmmaker’s career building a genre only to surgically deconstruct it over 3.5 glorious hours – with an emotionally-powerful reflection on growing old & life’s consequences steeped in proud Italian heritage, rich experimentalism in score, and masterpiece De Niro performance (perhaps his best work ever), The Irishman is a Mafia showpiece for the ages & one of the greatest films of the decade.

Official CLC Score: 9.5/10