Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano and Harvey Keitel.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Written by Steven Zaillian
Perhaps his most ambitious film to date, Martin Scorsese’s 2019 release, ‘The Irishman,’ delves once again into the mafia sub-genre that he is so often defined by. Bringing back to the screen many of the same actors and cinematic styles we have seen Scorsese work with before, this time the director explores the consequence of an aging generation of hitmen and mob-bosses. The story follows that of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a lorry driver drawn into the world of crime by the knowledge that he will now be able to provide for his family. His experiences are defined by the characters he meets and the jobs he carries out, but most importantly his relationship with the influential union-leader, Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
It’s difficult not to describe this film without mentioning its length. Sitting at three and a half hours, not only is this Scorsese’s longest film, but it’s one of the longest in mainstream cinema from recent years. Many people may be turned off by such a run-time, but the film never lets itself to be defined by such a factor, and the pacing allows for a story to develop which is consistently engaging and intriguing throughout. Typical of the mobster-genre, the film dedicates a large portion to the introduction and development of key characters. Due to the film’s length we are able to properly understand the motivations each character has and the role that they play within Scorsese’s world. As a result of this, later scenes which feature conflict between characters have a greater amount of tension and complexity as a result of the relationship which has been built not only between the characters within the film, but between the viewer and the performers also.
Commonly known for his intricate characters and brilliantly quotable dialogue, Scorsese approaches the story of the ‘The Irishman’ in a way which almost subverts his self-implemented definitions of a gangster story. Though there are many personalities who wouldn’t appear out of place in one of Scorsese earlier works, the way in which these people are presented is approached in an entirely new and refreshing manner. Whilst Henry Hill was constantly seen evading capture throughout 1990’s ‘Goodfellas,’ for Frank Sheeran capture never appears to be a major concern, instead focussing on what he will do when he grows old – a direction which Scorsese hasn’t previously confronted. Perfectly captured in the environment in which De Niro’s character finds himself, and contextually relevant to the nostalgic look back on the careers in which many of the performers and the director himself finds themselves, the tone of the film considers what is left behind when all others have moved on. Even in a world of crime, where all the characters are defined by antagonist features, pathos is still created for those who lose their friends and family to time. Relevant to the films length, the context of the creators and the subject of the story itself, Scorsese understands that this is the greatest theme of the film, and works all elements of its production in such a direction.
‘The Irishman’ is a brilliant story, and at the hands of one of modern cinemas most influential filmmakers, the on-screen portrayal of such a story is intricately woven through an array of well-executed characters and cinematic techniques.