Release Date: November 27, 2019 (Netflix)
Runtime: 209 mins
Directed by: Martin Scorcese
Starring: Robert De Niro
Movies about career criminals tend to be criticized for supposedly glorifying a life of crime. While this may be seen as a valid complaint against some movies, it seems to me like most people who make such claims have to deliberately ignore major themes and story details, especially the endings. However, I would be lying if I said there were not scenes in some movies which made being in the mob, for instance, look kind of fun.
Martin Scorsese’s sprawling, three and a half-hour-long epic, “The Irishman,” is the revered filmmaker’s latest gangster drama. It looks at life in organized crime in about the most unromantic way possible. A great number of those involved are methodically taken out for posing a threat, making a perceived insult or simply because their continued existence is rather inconvenient to those in power. Almost all of those who survive long enough will inevitably get caught and eventually die in prison. The few who are lucky enough to remain free into old age are wracked with enormous feelings of guilt for the horrible things they have done. With no living friends, they die alone and despised by their family. It is a deconstruction of the classic gangster genre. Attempts at making standard gangster movies have not been all that successful with critics or audiences in the recent past, but “The Irishman” almost marks the definitive end of an era.
The film’s cast includes three towering icons of the gangster genre, all of whom give their best performances in decades. Joe Pesci plays against the unpredictable and violent psychopath type in movies like “Goodfellas” and “Casino” as a calm yet commanding mob boss and father figure of sorts. Pesci came out of more than a decade on hiatus from acting to appear in “The Irishman,” and it is great to see him back. Al Pacino plays the larger than life Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa. The role gives Pacino the opportunity to really chew the scenery, but in a good, controlled way. Robert De Niro plays the lead character, and he is outstanding as usual. Particularly impressive is his subtle character transition after he makes a certain pivotal decision. The supporting cast—Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano and Harvey Keitel, among others—are all great as well.
The plot is rather complicated, weaving in and out of different time periods, but I was never once confused about what was going on. The costume design, music choices and editing make it clear we have transitioned out of one time and place into another.
Since the story follows multiple characters over about 50 or 60 years, “The Irishman” features heavy use of digital de-aging special effects. This technology has been used before—earlier this year in “Captain Marvel” for example—but never before on this wide a scale. Along with what I mentioned earlier, this helps the audience differentiate between time periods. The effect does make the actors’ faces look a little off at first, but I forgot about it after about five minutes. Some are finding it consistently distracting though, so keep that in mind. I certainly do not think a story like this could be believably told on film without this kind of technology, at least not with the same actors.
The movie is long, but it never really lags or becomes boring. I was invested in the story and characters for the whole time. The ability to watch at your own pace on Netflix will likely reduce any length issues people may have. I think anyone who enjoys classic gangster movies already has “The Irishman” on their to-do list over Thanksgiving break, but if you for some reason had any reservations about the movie, you have nothing to be worried about.
I probably made “The Irishman” sound like a depressing slog earlier, but it is actually quite funny. Do not get me wrong, this is definitely a serious drama, but it is the kind of drama which knows how to include healthy doses of comedy without being out of place or throwing off the tone.
“The Irishman” drops on Netflix this Wednesday. If you will be staying in the Oklahoma City area for Thanksgiving and are interested in seeing “The Irishman” on the big screen, it will be playing this week at the newly renovated Rodeo Cinema in the Stockyards District, across the street from Cattleman’s Steakhouse.
Drew Eckhart is a junior history and pre-law major from Edmond, OK. He has loved movies for as long as he can remember but thinks his passion really began when he watched “The Dark Knight” for the first time. His favorite type of movie blends comedy and drama seamlessly, and he loves great action films. In Drew’s free time, he enjoys reading and playing video games, as well as watching TV and movies. His favorite TV show is “BoJack Horseman” and his favorite movie is “The Graduate.”