The Irishman 2019 Review
Posted 2020-01-22 14:17:45
The Irishman 2019
Cast : Al Pacino - Robert De Niro - Joe Pesci - Harvey Keitel - Ray Romano - Bobby Cannavale - Anna Paquin - Stephen Graham
Rating: R (for pervasive language and strong violence)
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Steven Zaillian
In Theaters: Nov 1, 2019 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 27, 2019
Runtime: 209 minutes
Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran is a man with a lot on his mind. The former labor union high official and hitman, learned to kill serving in Italy during the Second World War. He now looks back on his life and the hits that defined his mob career, maintaining connections with the Bufalino crime family. In particular, the part he claims to have played in the disappearance of his life-long friend, Jimmy Hoffa, the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who mysteriously vanished in late July 1975 at the age of 62.
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when you are old and gray and full of sleep, what will you talk about? Your grandchildren? The far-off scents and tastes of your own childhood? Your first love? Or that time when you walked into Umberto’s Clam House and shot Crazy Joe, only you didn’t whack him right, so he runs outta there, more like stumbles, and you follow the guy and finish him off on the sidewalk, you know, pop pop, close the deal? The sorry fate of Joe is one of the many events recalled for us by Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), in “The Irishman,” as he sits in a nursing home and summons up remembrance of kills past.
The tale is told in flashback, either in voice-over or to the camera, with Frank looking directly—and disconcertingly—toward us, as if he were being interviewed for a documentary. To and fro we glide, across the decades, tracing Frank’s ascent, decline, and fall. We see him as a hale young fellow, delivering sides of meat, and then as a fixer for the Bufalinos, who are not, as the name suggests, the reigning monarchs of the mozzarella trade but a noted criminal clan in Philadelphia. Frank, arraigned on a charge of theft, is defended by Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano) and befriended by Bill’s cousin Russell (Joe Pesci), who becomes a soul mate for life. Frank soon graduates from fixing to whacking, with Scorsese, as so often, eschewing grandeur for the downbeat detail—a gun handed over in a brown paper bag, with no more fuss than a sandwich.
The next step up finds Frank being presented to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), whose command of the Teamsters is absolute, and who needs a bodyguard. It’s instructive to compare Pacino’s Hoffa with Jack Nicholson’s, in the underrated “Hoffa” (1992). Pacino is leaner and louder, with a wary stare in those haunted orbs; Nicholson is more of a bulldog—foursquare, wasting fewer words, and thus, for my money, providing a more tenacious bite. Also, Pacino fails to shed the tic that has pervaded the second half of his career. Whatever the role, he stretches out a word of one syllable into two, or even three, and declaims each syllable at a different pitch. So, as Hoffa, he doesn’t say “fraud.” He says “frahr-aud.” Call it irritable-vowel syndrome, and leave it at that.
Much of “The Irishman,” in its later stages, is consumed by the Hoffalogical—too much, perhaps, what with the added weight of speculation. Hoffa vanished on July 30, 1975, and left no trace; rumors have seethed ever since, and the movie, endorsing claims made by Brandt, in his book, tags Frank as Hoffa’s murderer. Whether or not you buy the thesis, so calm and so remorseless is the clarity with which Scorsese charts the events of that day that you somehow yield to them not as a flight of fancy but as the reconstruction of an established truth. Such is the method of the movie: patient, composed, and cool to the point of froideur. It runs for just under three and a half hours, although, to be honest, it seldom runs. Instead, it maintains a sombre pace, like a mourner in a funeral cortège. Whenever a town car—the hoodlum’s transport of choice—passes before the camera, it looks like a hearse in waiting.
As for Frank, when he’s not wielding a weapon, he likes to stay on the sidelines, keeping his counsel. It’s a joy to see De Niro at his most watchful, after too many films that have diluted his force of concentration, though I could have done without the tinting of his eyes. Gone is the dark Italianate brown of De Niro’s natural irises. New Blue Eyes is here. Short of cladding Frank in shamrock green, it’s hard to think of a less subtle means of ethnic signalling. The movie makes a brazen effort to explain the oddity, by having Russell ask Frank, “How did an Irishman like you get to speak Italian?” To which Frank replies that, in the military, he fought his way through Italy, picking up the lingo along the way. Yeah, just like all those thousands of G.I.s who came back from the war against the Nazis looking tall and blond and talking in fluent German.
This is not the first occasion, of course, on which De Niro has stepped aside from his cultural identity for the sake of a long and chronologically complex gangster flick. In Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), he was Noodles, who led a gang of Jewish pals through a lifetime of scrapes and misdemeanors. I love that movie, despite its faults, and have to be swept off the floor after every viewing; you can’t blame Scorsese for not trying to match the warmth of Leone’s emotional clutch. “The Irishman” has wider horizons in mind.
For one thing, it keeps glancing outward, to the world beyond the streets of Philadelphia. “Would you like to be a part of this history?” Hoffa says to Frank, as if he knows that they’re all in a movie, and there’s a touch of Zelig in Frank’s peculiar talent for being around whenever a crisis looms. He drives a truckful of arms to the men who are headed for the Bay of Pigs, and his contact at the handover, in Jacksonville, is “a guy with big ears, named Hunt”—E. Howard Hunt, whom Frank later recognizes on TV, during the Watergate hearings. Then, we have the Kennedys. The movie encourages dark thoughts about organized crime and its links to political homicide, and Frank is present when Hoffa orders the Stars and Stripes, flying at half-mast after the death of John F. Kennedy, to be hauled back up the flagpole on the roof of the Teamsters’ headquarters.