Harry Mear | Student Writer
Poignant and perplexing. Scorsese is at his best with his gangster epic of old.
At 3 hours 30 minutes running time, The Irishman is a gradual and climatic account of the life and rise of truck-driver turned hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in the criminal world of Philadelphia for the better part of 5 decades in post-war and counter-culture America. With Scorsese returning to his roots in mob crime drama, he brings with him a stellar cast echoing back to his first forays of films with the combined influence of Means Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Casino and the episcopal Goodfellas being a, sure enough, incentive to brave a viewing of what may be known as Scorsese’s magnum opus.
With the likes of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel involved, a serious case of production mismanagement or a disaster in the cutting room would have had to befall the film, which had survived years of development hell, for it not to emerge as an immediate success commercially and at face-value. To describe The Irishman as the pinnacle of not just the crime drama and the Scorsese film, but perhaps the film itself would not be unwarranted despite its lack of excitement and cynical self-destruction usually injected by the timeless director. With the significant use of de-ageing technology primarily inflicted upon De Niro, Scorsese does much to recapture not only the youth and prowess of the mobster but of his style in this slow-burning and nostalgic story of murder, mobster and the unstoppable march of time.
The story, based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, centres upon Sheeran and his rise from a war veteran lorry-driver and charlatan to a core member of the Bufalino Crime Family following chance encounters with don Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci) and Union Labour Leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The story is dark, complex and unashamedly candid in its portrayal of mob life and activity with hints of humour, notably from Pacino, speckling the years spanning the mobs involvement with President John F. Kennedy and his administration to the infamous disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa at the zenith of the film to the later years of reflection and degeneration in prison and retirement homes.
Within the spider-web narrative of inter-weaving time periods and albeit sometimes jarring cuts between years and locations, a whole other type of crime film has been crafted here which ultimately climaxes with the somewhat self-conscious and revealing notions of Scorsese. Deeper than Goodfellas in the sense of family dynamics, morality and mortality, Scorsese has avoided rehashing his previous iterations and swamped all preconceptions of stereotype with a far more reflective insight into a more familiar burden of the human condition and the brutality of time against the actions of a mobster. Just with the face of an indifferent stone-cold killer to add to the weight.