'The Irishman' review: Scorsese's crime epic is a visual treat coupled with a bloody and vibrant narrative
This review contains no spoilers
Martin Scorsese is back with an epic mob-genre movie after almost a decade. And so are Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino—all well over their seventies—in this absolutely power-packed masterpiece of a film.
The director and the ensemble cast ensure that each minute of the three-and-a-half hour epic is a visual treat coupled with concrete, bloody and vibrant narrative. At this stage in Scorsese's decorated filmmaking career, it is safe to term 'The Irishman' as his best work yet. Let's call it a late tour de force.
The proverb 'Live by the sword, die by the sword' [or, in this case, a shotgun, a tommy or a pistol], resonates throughout the film as Scorsese depicts the death of each gangster with ominous, grisly detail. It may have been a glamorous life for the mobsters, but their death is torrid and downright bitter.
In De Niro, we see Frank Sheeran, a real-life mob soldier at a Philly nursing home. He's struck by cancer and is confined to the mercy of a wheelchair. No family to lend some support, he narrates his career as the "Irishman" and recounts the time where assassinations and any form of grotesque events that changed the course of history were tied to the Mafia.
Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography is a delight. It's sharp and is backed with a script that encompasses wry humor and bloody, intense action coupled with raw, bared emotions.
For Sheeran, his days as a mob man begins in his early 30s. This is where de-aging comes to the fore, or for accuracy's sake, let's call it the "youngification" process. Sheeran is a strapping WWII combatant who's made a name for his carnage, killing skills. It is here De Niro absolutely kills it with a humdinger of a performance.
In Russell Bufalino (Pesci), we see the head of the northeast Pennsylvania crime family who takes Sheeran under him to do his jobs— which also include killing people.
Bufalino comes across as the silent man whose bad side is something you cannot handle. He brings that sort of an intensity masked behind those cold eyes and that is scarier than the blood and gore. He introduces Sheeran to Angelo Bruno (Keitel) and most importantly, to Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who has financial ties with the Bufalino crime family. Hoffa becomes close with Sheeran and his family, especially his daughter Peggy (Ana Paquin), and Sheeran becomes Hoffa's main bodyguard while he is on the road.
Pacino radiates power. There are shades of horror and humor, but also has a layer of softness for Peggy. The ultimate question is did Sheeran kill Hoffa after Bufalino orders him to? The film sticks to Charles Brandt's biography of Sheeran, which means 'Yes'. This was the same ending in the book 'I Heard You Paint Houses'.
Scorsese firmly fixes his radar on the mobsters, trying to bring out the human side, and he truly excels.
This could be Scorsese's finest work. It is a classic and has the Scorsese written all over it. It is gritty, meticulous and profound.
'The Irishman' is now available for streaming on Netflix.