The Irishman movie poster
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The Irishman
The Irishman movie poster

The Irishman Movie Review

Can a movie be a masterpiece when the special effects are so bad? Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is the best movie he’s made in years, but the accolades the movie’s been receiving makes it sound like the second coming of Christ. In reality, the movie is simply really, really good, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Irishman, Scorsese’s first Italian gangster film since 1995’s Casino, offers an arguably more mature perspective on the crime and violence that plagues his unfortunate and morally corrupt set of subjects. The movie is less flashy, the characters grayer, the violence more subdued. Some would say this maturation is an evolution of Scorsese’s craft; I’ll probably stick with Casino and Goodfellas as my go-to gangster films.

Regardless of which Scorsese gangster film best suits your taste, there’s no denying Scorsese can direct the shit out of movies like this. Even at 3.5 hours in length, The Irishman maintains a steady, can’t-look-away clip that mounts to its inevitable climax: the death and disappearance of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa. It’s a beautifully shot and well scripted crime drama.

The cast helps. Al Pacino, as Hoffa, delivers his best performance since 2002’s Insomnia, Scorsese somehow managing to get the actor to completely shed the over-the-top Al Pacino caricature he has been playing for decades. Joe Pesci, who came out of retirement for this movie, is stellar as well, also playing against type. While Pacino delivers the most scene-stealing turn, this movie belongs to Robert De Niro, who gives one of the most powerfully thoughtful and sincere performances of his career.

It’s a shame that some of these performances are impeded by Scorsese’s de-aging special effects, which turns some of the most talented actors in cinema into floating face monsters. You get used to the effects over time, but they certainly are distracting early on and an extremely poor decision by the storied director. What’s equally disappointing is that Scorsese didn’t opt to cast younger actors to play younger versions of the characters; the approach has worked many times before, most memorably in a certain De Niro/Pacino gangster film called The Godfather Part II (what if Brando had just played a young version of himself instead?). Frankly, Scorsese vetoed our opportunity to see an even more tremendous cast than what he presents here.

Controversial de-aging effects aside, The Irishman’s other limitation is De Niro’s character, Frank. As great as De Niro is, the guy is essentially a sociopath—a man who expresses hesitation but seemingly never hesitates, opting for violence at every turn, even if the victim is a friend. This is partially the point—Anna Paquin, oddly given almost no lines to play Frank’s knowing and disapproving daughter, plays the physical embodiment of Frank’s conscience, or at least his judge—but Frank isn’t a particularly compelling or deep character. The fact that De Niro is still able to carry the movie speaks volumes to his talent.

Sure, The Irishman could have been a bit shorter, and the de-aging visual effects should have been scrapped entirely in the pre-production phase, but Scorsese’s latest is another excellent film, marred only by, perhaps, relativism to his other greats.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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