So Martin Scorcese is one of my favourite directors. Whenever Scorcese does a mafia film you’re bound to get an interesting film, even if not all of them work 100%. With The Irishman, Scorcese is making what seems to be his epic crime drama, covering around 50 years of time, with the 3 1/2 hour run time aiding in this and watching the film, I have to say this is one of Scorcese’s best films.
The film focuses on the work of Frank Sheeran, a hitman for the Bufalino crime family, led by Russell Bufalino, showing his rise in prominence in the crime family, with most of the focus being on the relationship between Sheeran and the president of the Teamsters union, Jimmy Hoffa, leading up to his disappearance in 1975. The film does a good job at covering the history of the time, showing Sheeran’s full criminal career and bringing in elements such as the influence of the mafia on the election of JFK, the relationship between Hoffa and Nixon and the relationship between organised labour and the mafia. Through this we see how the mafia profited on the pension funds of the Teamsters, taking money from the pension to finance casinos and real estate deals, with the interest on the loans going back into the pension, if the deals were successful that is. This relationship between the mafia and Hoffa forms the core of the film, showing how entwined Hoffa was with the mafia and how Hoffa could take down the mafia if they ever turned on him. This changing nature of the relationship between Hoffa and the mafia, with the mafia growing more concerned with Hoffa through his political dealings and his relationship with other senior figures in the Teamsters union, providing a strong core for most of the film. The rest of the core is through the way the mafia itself is depicted. In other Scorcese films, mainly Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorcese shows the elements of crime that attract people, showing why people willingly choose to enter that lifestyle. Here though, Scorcese shows the darker and more dangerous elements. When characters involved in the mafia are introduced, a lot of them have subtitles informing the audience of the date and manner of their death, usually violent, on screen and, as the film goes on, we see how lonely and empty Sheeran is with his involvement in the mafia, especially in the last half hour of the film. There’s a sense of dread and fear throughout the film, exemplified through the way violence is presented in short, brutal bursts. Nothing in the film is glorified and it feels like Scorcese wants to focus on the horror of the mafia and how people are trapped in that life. The pacing meanwhile is excellent. Despite the film being 3 1/2 hours long, it doesn’t feel that long, the pacing ensuring that the plot moves forwards throughout the film and there are no points where I felt bored.
The performances throughout the film are excellent. Robert DeNiro is brilliant as Sheeran, showing his lack of empathy during his crimes and showing the way the relationship between Sheeran and Hoffa deteriorates throughout the film. As the film goes on, DeNiro brings an emptiness to the film, showing how the mafia life has left him empty. Al Pacino as Hoffa meanwhile shows the egotism of the character and how effective he is in his union role, showing why so many people respected him. We also see the interesting elements of the character through his relationship with JFK (the scene where Hoffa finds out about the JFK assassination being an excellent piece of acting from Pacino), along with how Hoffa is in the pocket of the mafia and the level of respect he feels he deserves throughout the film. Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino meanwhile is more low key, showing someone who commands respect in the mafia and showing the power of the character, but also showing a resigned nature, as someone who has no life outside of the mafia and, as the film goes on, we see him grow frailer and, like with Sheeran, see how empty his life is. For the supporting cast, Stephen Graham steals the show as Tony Pro, bringing in some great comedy throughout the film and seeing Graham and Pacino interact with each other is dynamite. Anna Paquin and Lucy Gallina as Peggy Sheeran meanwhile, whilst not having a lot of dialogue, use body language to show the fear and disgust that Peggy has towards Sheeran and Russell, and how she views Hoffa as more of a father than Sheeran. Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons and Harvey Keitel meanwhile add to the atmosphere of the film, they bring what you expect seeing them in the cast, but that’s not a bad thing, they play to their strengths well and help round out the world of the film.
Then technical elements of the film are also very impressive. The most obvious element to talk about is the de-ageing effects. Whilst there are some points where body language and mouth movements don’t quite work, this is still the best use of de-ageing I’ve seen in a film. There aren’t any real points where the effects go into the Uncanny Valley and it didn’t end up being distracting for me. The film also does a great job at showing the period details throughout, allowing background details and pieces of news reflect the time period. Some of these are more obvious, such as scenes focused on the assassination of JFK and the Watergate scandal, but all of these details help to establish the world of the film. The editing meanwhile is excellent, creating a flowing pace throughout the film that allows the 3 1/2 hour long run time fly by.
Overall, The Irishman is a powerful crime epic and another reminder of how good a director Martin Scorcese is with crime dramas. The length of the film flows by, there weren’t any points where I was bored and it shows a powerful look at the nature of the relationship between the mafia and organised labour in the 50s to the 70s and the overall emptiness of the criminal life.
My Rating: 5/5