Sunday, November 17, 2019

Movie with Abe: The Irishman

The Irishman
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Released November 1, 2019

There are many ways to make a movie about the mob. There are typically many players involved at all different levels, and introducing every single one can be cumbersome and confusing to audiences. A decision must be made about how much violence to include onscreen since intimidation and killing are frequent occurrences, along with just how deep a dive to take into the mentality of those who may end up executing their closest friends. If anyone knows how best to portray the mob on screen, it’s the man who made some of the most influential movies about the subject: Martin Scorsese.

Truck driver and World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) meets mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) on his route one day in the 1950s in Pennsylvania, and is officially introduced after he stays quiet following an accusation of theft. Frank becomes increasingly loyal to Russell, doing anything he needs, including hits, and is eventually reassigned to help out a more public figure, Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and ensure all of his goals are accomplished. As time goes on, Frank becomes further embedded in Jimmy and Russell’s operations, something that becomes problematic when he realizes that his two bosses don’t always see eye to eye.

This film does not come without serious expectations. Its three-and-a-half-hour runtime is undeniably excessive, but Scorsese manages to stuff it full of as much content as he possibly can, suggesting that it’s all worth including. Scorsese’s last film, “Silence,” was just as immersive but considerably less inviting, and this resembles something closer to his classic works like “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Goodfellas.” There is plentiful humor to be found in this story full of brutality and betrayal, integrated in an effective and entertaining way that also makes all three protagonists endearing. Though they’re all unapologetic criminals, they’re incredibly likeable as presented in this light. The chosen device of identifying background characters by the ways in which they eventually met their deaths is a strong instance of black comedy put to good use.

What’s most worth celebrating here is the reunion of Scorsese with his frequent collaborators De Niro and Pesci, in addition to what’s shockingly his first time directing Pacino. Much has been made of the de-aging technology used to make all three actors, who are in their late seventies, look younger and transform gradually over the course of the film. While De Niro never quite seems like he’s thirty, it’s evident that Scorsese was certain that these performers were the right fits for their roles, and they certainly are. De Niro plays his role straight, while Pacino goes all out to make Jimmy an unforgettable eccentric and Pesci presents a more reserved take that works tremendously. The ensemble also includes Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, and a handful of others who contribute superbly in just the way that they should. This film is an experience, one that shows a tremendous amount of work and an involving, seemingly inescapable product. Its streaming release on Netflix later this month will allow those wary of diving in for such an intensive commitment able to do so at their own pace, but this reviewer would recommend trying to digest it all at once, even at such a length.


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