THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese. Robert De Niro. Al Pacino. Joe Pesci. Those four names all equal one word: legendary. Scorsese was instrumental in bringing back the auteur, studio-be-damned method of filmmaking in the 1970’s. Unlike almost every other director from that era, he’s still pumping out hits, no matter how old he gets. De Niro and Pacino defined entire generations of tough guys and gangsters, garnering awards along the way. However, they’ve challenged themselves a lot less as they’ve gotten older, starring in films like Little Fockers and Jack and Jill. Joe Pesci is the quintessential wise guy, with pitch perfect timing and delivery to make you laugh and cower in fear. Unfortunately, he’s been retired for many years and really has no desire to come back. But what if he did come back? And what if Scorsese, De Niro, and Pacino were all along side them? 
 
In the 1950’s, Frank “The Irishman Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a meat packing delivery truck driver who gets into legal trouble when a shipment arrives short. Now facing jail time, Sheeran hires attorney Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano), who’s able to get him off. This leads Sheeran to meeting Bill’s cousin Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a mobster and head of a crime family. Due to his cold and calculating nature and experience in World War II, Russell brings Sheeran into his mob to become a hitman. Sheeran is really good at his job, but maybe too good, as this has him cross paths with labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), which could really complicate things with the Bufalino family. 
 
This is a Martin Scorsese directed gangster film starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino (their first time working together, shockingly), and Joe Pesci, so you know it’s going to be incredible. So, the big intrigue, and worry for a lot of people, would be the CGI de-aging of its actors. They’re all in their 70’s, but this takes place over a span of 50 years. If you’re going to use these actors and have them play young, no amount of makeup will cover up those liver spots or wrinkles. Luckily, we’re in the digital age with computers everywhere, where literally anything can be accomplished. Some people have said that they should have just cast young actors and made them up to be older, but then you would have lost the movie’s whole allure in the first place. 
 
Using CGI to cast these old men to be both old and young was a huge risk and also a huge undertaking. You have to light and block the scenes differently, using multiple cameras in order to get every angle of the actor’s face. Then it’s to the computers where the final process happens. It’s the reason why its budget ballooned to $159 million and thankfully, Netflix gave Scorsese all of the money he needed, because it totally paid off. Digital de-aging has clearly come a loooooong way since the days of 2010’s Tron: Legacy. This was the most stunning use of digital de-aging I’ve seen yet, and it just shows how much hard work and money went into this. De Niro plays off many actors just playing their normal age, no CGI or anything, and he looks just as authentic as them. Sure, there are some brief moments where it goes into the uncanney valley and while their face is young, they still sometimes have the body movements of old men, which can’t be helped.
 
But you know what? I didn’t even care or notice, because the performances are just so damn incredible. De Niro and Pacino have definitely starred in some stinkers over the years, but you can tell they love working with Scorsese and he definitely gets the best out of them here. This is, without a single doubt in my mind, De Niro’s finest performance to date. It harkens back to his Godfather Part II days, with a very understated performance, but with body language, facial expressions, and emotions behind the eyes that say so much. In his early hitman days, you can see the killing doesn’t affect him much, but as he matures and gets more attached to some of the people he has to kill, you can tell he feels terrible and is just ready to be done with it. When he’s an old man who can hardly walk and is on the verge of death, it’s just pitiful to witness. Someone who actually had some power is now completely stripped down and helpless. If De Niro has the good sense to do it, he would make this his final performance and go out on one of the highest, if not highest, acting notes of all time. 
 
Pacino is his usual loud and proud self, but it’s the perfect personality for Jimmy Hoffa. I don’t know what Hoffa was like, but Pacino sure seemed to embody him as a character. He’s in a large portion of the film after the first act and he builds a very close, almost familial, relationship with Sheeran, who acts as his bodyguard. He’s a nice contrast to Sheeran’s more quiet character and both actors play off each other wonderfully. Pacino isn’t always loud here, though, with plenty of quiet scenes that shows how excellent of a restrained actor he is too. The biggest surprise, at least personality wise, was Joe Pesci. He came out of retirement after relentless convincing from Scorsese and de Niro to do the film, and this performance is the complete opposite from what he gave in Goodfellas or Casino. He’s very quiet and calm, and definitely less malicious, playing a more mature and respectful mobster. Compared to Tommy DeVito and Nicky Santoro, he only uses violence as a last resort and despite the line of work he’s in, it’s not his preferred path to go down. Not only was it wonderful for Pesci to come out of retirement, but I loved seeing him play a completely different character than I’ve seen before. Maybe De Niro shouldn’t just retire, but also Pacino and Pesci, because these are all phenomenal performances with these actors on the top of their game. 
 
This is a crime epic in every sense of the word, devling into the corrupt world of labor unions, the mob, the law, politics, and basically the whole world. It’s not just a film about Sheeran and his connections with Hoffa and Bufalino, but it’s about America itself. The film starts in the 50’s and ends in the 2000’s, using many important events in our history to not just give us a sense of time, but also explore how these events affected these people, as well as the country. There’s a masterful sequence with characters hanging out in a bar when the news about John F. Kennedy’s assassination comes on the TV. You only hear the news anchor, as the bar is completely silent, more and more people walking up to watch in awe. It just felt so authentic, like I was actually right there with them. It’s a film that Americans can watch and almost feel a second-hand experience of the events. There’s a lot going on in the 209-minute runtime, but thanks to some expert pacing, structuring, editing (GOAT Thelma Schoonmaker) and direction, it never dragged, lost my interest, nor confused me. You always know what time period the characters are in thanks to how well American history is woven into the narrative. 
 
Scorsese specializes in gangster movies, making two of the best of all time, Goodfellas and Casino. People have argued that those films glorify the mob, but I’ve always agreed with Scorsese that he humanizes them. They’re people just like us, who crack jokes, love their family, but go a bit too far with shooting people in the head, which Scorsese always treats with cold and clinical brutality. You get a lot of people getting shot in the face, strangled, and beaten up all over the place here, and just like the two aforementioned films, it never feels fun to watch. What The Irishman tackles that the other films don’t, is sadness. As Sheeran grows older and goes deeper into the mob, he drifts further and further away from his family, particularly his daughters. In typical Scorsese fashion, an 83-year-old Sheeran narrates the film from a nursing home. We don’t see who he’s talking to until the very end, but the reveal was like a punch to the gut. He is a heinous murderer who deserves what he gets, but you still feel sorry for him, because he’s now just a frail old man. It’s a far more introspective film than any other film Scorsese, or any of these actors, have done before. It’s almost as if all of them are reflecting back on their lives and careers. It ain’t the glory days anymore. 
 
As the characters grow older and slow down, so does the movie. It doesn’t slow down in a bad way, as the pacing is still tight, but in the last hour, it slows way down to really get into the nitty gritty of these characters. You get all of the fun, violent gangster action for the first 2/3, all with that wonderful Scorsese flair of stylish camera movements, framing, and musical choices to keep up the energy. Old people don’t have much energy, though, so the last third is very restrained. Not surprisingly, you may expect the movie to be all of that fun Goodfellas and Casino shooting and stabbing shenanigans at first, but the last hour really takes it to a different level completely. With the former two films, I felt entertained when the end credits rolled. This just made me feel somber and contemplative. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions Scorsese takes you on, but they’re all real, genuine emotions that speak 
 
It may be recency bias speaking, but I believe The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus, and I adore pretty much all of his films. Taxi DriverThe King of ComedyGoodfellasCasinoThe Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street are all perfect, or near perfect films for me, but this is just something else. Perhaps it’s because Scorsese had far more creative control here than he ever did before, so he was able to fully spread his wings and give us a film that feels like its in a class of its own. I consider this the third part of a trilogy, with Goodfellas and Casino being the first two films, and for the first time ever, the third and final part of the trilogy is not only the best, but one of the best films of all time. Without any sort of debate, Martin Scorsese is the greatest American filmmaker ever. I just hope he doesn’t retire along with the De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci, because he should be making movies all the way to the grave. 
 
10/10 

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