The Irishman (2019): Film Review
The Irishman is a gangster movie, yes, but not like any of Martin Scorsese's other gangster movies, or any other movies in the sub-genre itself. Sure, the film has certain violent aspects to it, or has an epic family saga feel to it, but when it comes down to it, The Irishman is more about morality than it is about power. Sure, the idea of power is a central aspect of the film, and is what motivates many of the actions done within the film, but at the end of the day, Scorsese has made a film that speaks about what it means to be "aging", and how this idea affects our lives, the lives of others around us, and the world we live in as a whole. The four power players behind this movie (Scorsese, DeNiro, Pacino, Pesci) are all in their late 70's, and The Irishman feels like a self-reflexive journey for each of these cinematic legends. Everyone involved in the making of this film puts their all into their roles, but for these four, it feels as if this is more personal, like a message that they wanted to get out into the world speaking from an older generation to a younger generation. That's what makes The Irishman so beautiful. Sure, it may be timely, but more often than not, it feels timeless.
The film tells the story of Frank Sheeran, also known as "The Irishman", and his recollection of his rise of power through the mobs and underworld of 1950s New York. As Sheeran gains more and more notoriety in his profession, we are introduced to two characters who have an extremely powerful influence on Sheeran - Russell Bufalino and Jimmy Hoffa, two men seamlessly connected but insanely different in their motivations and actions. As time goes on, the audience is given an in-depth look at how actions affect lives, relationships build up and fall apart, and how life is evaluated as a whole. It's a classic Scorsese story in a classic Scorsese style of picture, but The Irishman's heavy themes and morals are what set it apart from most movies of the sort, and what makes it a movie that won't be forgotten, no matter if it's seen in a crowded movie theater or on your computer screen.
You simply cannot talk about The Irishman without bringing up three key aspects of the movie - the actors, the length, and the film's distributor, Netflix. Firstly, as expected, the actors all do a phenomenal job playing their characters. All three lead actors are known and beloved names in the world of cinema, and they hold up to their expectations by delivering fascinating character studies and performances that are sure to be noted in the best of the year. DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci all do such a fantastic job distinguishing the three main characters from each other, and explaining that although they might seem similar, they are so different from one another - in their actions, in their words, and in their motivations. A lot of the film also revolves in the retelling of their life stories, which includes one of the more controversial aspects of the movie, de-aging technology to make these late seventies men look like an age that really isn't known to the audience. Personally, I had no issues with the use of this technology, and thought that it was very well done, because at every single moment in this movie, there is so much going on at once that there really isn't enough time to critique how young the actors look at a given instant.
The second thing to note about The Irishman is that the film is insanely lengthy - capping in at 209 minutes, just on the cusp of three and a half hours. While I think the film definitely could have been shorter, I enjoyed every single minute of it, and would have loved to see even more of these three character's stories and the way they intersected with each other. One of Scorsese's best talents lies in his world-building and character-building, long run times simply aren't intimidating to him because he is a master of his craft - he takes the time to build characters up so that the audience follows and understands their motivations, a feat a lot of modern directors can't pull of anymore. So, although 209 minutes is quite a long time for a movie, especially in 2019 where most movies that are long don't exactly fare well, it's not as much of a burden to the story or audience as one would think.
The final thing mentioned earlier in the review that I would like to cover, to a certain extent, is the complicated aspect of Netflix's, the film's distributor, rocky relationship with (honestly, I would even say "against") the rest of the film industry. From the moment that people knew that Netflix, the global streaming conglomerate, was the company behind The Irishman, everything seemed to become stilted - people didn't understand if this was going to be an in-theater or steaming-only sort of release, people didn't exactly understand if this was going to affect the movie at the Oscars, and most importantly, people didn't know how (or if) they were going to be able to see this movie on the big screen, or if they would have to settle for their television set. The thing about all of the Netflix drama is that the situation is more complicated then it seems. They were the only studio that was willing to finance the film, which gives them creative control - but, shouldn't a movie this grand be in theaters for audiences to see? Well, yes. I don't regret driving four hours round trip to see The Irishman, because I had a blast at the theater and love seeing movies on the big screen, especially when the film is of epic proportion, like this film is. Another thing to note is that this movie has an in-theater audience willing to see it, all of the showings (besides one) at the theater I saw the film at was sold out, and getting in and out of the theater was a "Black Friday at Walmart" type of experience, except a little calmer and a lot less pushing. But, I don't think that this movie needs to be seen in a theater - and I actually think that a movie like this will do better when it has a wider audience to reach. Seeing three-and-a-half hour movies in an uncomfortable movie theater seat is my tempo, but for a majority of audiences, it is not. I think that The Irishman will be critically acclaimed by both critics and fans regardless, but it will reach more people by having this worldwide availability, where anyone can watch it, comfortably and in any setting, anytime they want. The only thing that comes with that is the following: yes, this is a long movie, but it deserves to be seen in one shot. Breaking it up into pieces, or constantly pausing and playing the film, won't do it any justice. Scorsese has crafted a story that is as valuable in parts as it is as a whole. It may be tough to get through at times, but the length is sufficed by a story that deserves telling. It is as simple as that.
The Irishman is not a perfect movie, but it is pretty darn close. In my opinion, the film is at its weakest in the first hour, but it is not like the moments told at the beginning of the movie aren't necessary - everything adds up in the end. It is a little hard to follow at multiple points in the movie, simply because all of these names, characters, and actions are thrown at you at lightning speed, and it can be hard to reciprocate at times. But this flaw just proves the rewatchability of the film. I want to see this movie again, and am going to do so at the first moment possible, because I am genuinely interested to see what aspects of the movie I missed, and what aspects are more enjoyable upon subsequent viewings.
To sum it up, The Irishman is more than a story of 1950s New York, and the mobsters that ran various aspects of the city. We have seen enough of those movies over time, and we simply don't need any more of those films. The Irishman is, instead, a deep dive and consensus on how power defines a human being, and how the relationships we build around us can affect us in a variety of different ways - good, bad, and nearly everything in between. The film is a technical and metaphorical marvel, and boasts a great message about life, morality, and a plethora of other themes that elevate it to a completely new level. I can't wait for you to see this movie, on the big screen or not, because it is a movie that needs to be seen, for a variety of different reasons. The Irishman, to put it simply, is a stroke of genius. Nothing more, nothing less.