The Irishman (2019)

Irishman poster-2019

Irishman poster-2019

THE IRISHMAN (2019)

A review by Adam Lovett

Writer/Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemmions, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston

“What kind of man makes a call like that…”

Martin Scorsese has made his GODFATHER instead of another GOODFELLAS, not to detract from that films magnificence. This is a far more mature and contemplative gangster film than anything in his past canon.

The distinction begins with the way THE IRISHMAN never for a frame makes anyone look cool but instead exposes their scummy, selfish and petty underbelly. Humanizing while demystifying, sequences like those where Frank Sheeran (DeNiro) has to play he-said, she-said messenger boy between Hoffa (Pacino) and the mob acting like 10 year old school kids with a crush undermines any perceived authority.

This is a patient film, an elegantly sculpted character study. The nuanced craftsmanship on display here is at the level only a lifetime of cinema can produce. The cinematography of Rodrigo Prietois is evocative and purposeful, the camera position observes when needed and moves to enhance when necessary. Robbie Robertson’s score and the music in general as with all the Directors best work prompt pacing and reflection of scenes. The costumes and production design are never less than authentically lived in.

Steve Zallian’s screenplay is epic while avoiding bloating which is true of Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing as well. The 3.5 hour running time never drags. No scene was unnecessary but more importantly the ordeal of time, the slow crawl towards death are such thematic elements it feeds into the viewing experience (like Zodiac).

The performances live up to the casts legendary status. DeNiro brings dimension to his part, giving a shit in a way he hasn’t since the David O Russel films. Pacino manages to go big but never hoohah ham. Keitel and Bobby Cannavale make their small parts stay in mind throughout.  The true pleasure of the film though is Pesci, who instead of playing up to his usual outlandish antics goes low key restrained with an understated all too human detached menace that never invokes laughs but unnerves frequently with its quiet strength.

Gushing aside there are some bumps that need to be acknowledged. Much has been made of the de-aging CGI and I admit to struggling early on with the young De Niro and Pesci. The issue though was mostly of a personal perception variety more than flaws in the tech. I know what they look like now and then, it was hard to divorce from that. At times the physicality too was a clash where a youthful face was attached to an obviously still septuagenarian body. I was able to get past this in the end and embrace the thespian skills on display. That’s not to say afterwards questions about who to credit for the excellent performances (The CGI artist or the actor) have plagued me.

The other lament I have is the daughters sub plot, especially Peggy’s never lived up to its glances of promise. There seemed to be a narrative reveal she would eventually be attached to and there were hints of a character development that never came. Part of this may have just been how welcome it was to see Anna Paquin (older Penny) onscreen again, her strong presence no less potent than in her best roles.

Regular readers know I was hesitant to board THE IRISHMAN hype train due to concerns this was just going to be retread of past Scorsese glory. Something akin to GOODFELLAS 3. Well it’s time for Film Frak Adam to admit he was wrong. I should never have doubted a master.

“You always charge a guy with a gun! With a knife, you run away.”

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