R, 3hr 29min,
Biography, Crime, Drama
Now streaming on Netflix and playing in select theaters
Back in 2004 I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. This was an appropriate location being that the theater itself appeared in the film during a scene where Howard Hughes throws one of his lavish 1930’s premiere’s back in the day. Afterward, I was able to briefly meet Mr. Scorsese, which for this fledgling film student, was a thrill of a lifetime. I thought I was witnessing a master of cinema taking a victory lap in the twilight of his career, complete with a handshake with the man and his legendary editor, the wonderful Thelma Schoonmaker (who’s edited a majority of Scorsese’s films, including this one). Never would I have thought he would paint one of his largest canvasses 15 years later at the age of 77.
The first thing people like to comment on when discussing “The Irishman” is the length. Yes, it is longer than the average mainstream film. At three hours and thirty minutes, this is the longest movie Martin Scorsese has directed, and the longest mainstream movie released in over twenty years. But every scene was enthralling to me, every performance top-tier.
Having some of the biggest names in Hollywood history, as well as a who’s who of mobster movie character-actors helps. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel carry the load, followed by the likes of Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, and Bobby Cannavale as great supporting characters. All are extremely effective here, particularly Joe Pesci, who really is the second lead behind De Niro and gives a powerfully understated performance in only his second film in a decade. If he doesn’t get nominated for “ Best Supporting Actor” I would be flat out shocked. If he doesn’t win, I will be surprised.
Scorsese’s 26th feature film revolves around a mob hitman who recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa. It was based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses.” De Niro, who produced the film under his Tribeca Productions shingle, wanted to keep the original book title for the movie. He lost that battle, but I did notice the only credit or title that appears at any point during the film proper is “I Heard. You. Paint Houses.” in the first 15 minutes of the picture. Well played, Mr. Scorsese.
This film has sparked a good deal of debate when it comes to theater chains vs. streaming services. If you ask me, the theater chains, studios, and old Hollywood guard have lost this battle. They (looking at you, Paramount Pictures) refused to give one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers and a group of actors the budget to make the film they wanted because it wasn’t a high return comic book movie, and in the process lost one of the few large-scale pieces of character-based dramatic cinema of the decade. These types of films, once the norm in the 1970s and 1980s, are few and far between now. Because of the streaming wars, Netflix jumped at the chance to produce high caliber content from one of the cinema’s great auteurs. They got it and thumbed their nose at movie theater chains, who demand they follow the 3-month “gentleman’s agreement” window of theatrical release before home video or streaming goes into effect. Netflix said “no thanks,” placed it in select theaters a few weeks back and gave it to the world last week. The audience wins.
For those of you that, like me, want to see your cinema on the big screen, as of this writing, the film is still playing in select theaters around the country. Seeing it this way is how I truly recommend it – bathroom breaks be damned – so check your local listings.
In addition to the stellar casting and unique (for a film of this size) distribution strategy, the other controversy “The Irishman” brings with it is its reliance on CGI to de-age all of the main cast. Personally, this worked well for me. It’s a little jarring when you first see a 30-year-old De Niro driving a truck, but that feeling quickly subsides as the characters interact. It certainly doesn’t affect the performances. Are we fully deceived when we see a younger actor plastered with tons of old age make-up? No. But we don’t make a big stink about it because that’s the norm. Seeing younger De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino interact and not think much about the wizardry at work in shaving off 20, 30 or even 40 years of their lives is miraculous, if you ask me.
Mr. Scorsese’s colorful and diverse career is one to study (I recommend the book “Scorsese” by the late, great Roger Ebert), and “The Irishman” is a highly respectable entry in the twilight of this director and these actors’ careers (all in their mid to late 70’s). It may not be his best film, but I rank it fairly high on his filmography, and that’s saying something with his line-up of movies. It’s a perfect closing act to his mobster trilogy that started with “Godfellas” (1990), continued with “Casino” (1995) and ends here.
I read in the press notes that “The Irishman” took 106 days to film. This is the longest shooting schedule in Martin Scorsese’s career, and if this movie is any indication, he’s not ready to hang up his director viewfinder quite yet.
Abeckaser next hits the big screen in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”.
Review: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ is an Insanely Masterful, if Overlong, Elegy to Gangster Cinema
Seriously, though, don’t take a sip of that large Coke Zero until an hour-and-a-half in at least. The good news is that thanks to constant frenetic energy, the film doesn’t really feel like three-and-a-half hours.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video