*. I guess the way to begin is by backing up a few steps. In my notes on Casino I mentioned how it was seen as being the third part of a trilogy of mob movies made by Martin Scorsese, the first two being Mean Streets and Goodfellas, and that it showed a further development toward a “slick and glitzy” direction Scorsese was heading in with Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street. Well, now we have a tetralogy.
*. But in both Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street that glitziness made sense because those movies were dealing with a slick and glitzy world (casinos, high finance). My problem with The Irishman is that it has much the same feel, with less glamorous trappings. I think it’s also the case that The Irishman is the longest and most expensive of all the films I’ve mentioned, and the least accomplished.
*. “It is a landscape of the terminally ordinary, here made splendid,” writes Geoffrey O’Brien in his Criterion essay. The locations “are recreated with a loving care belying the ugliness of what transpires in them.” Yes, but should they be? Should they look splendid, or made to belie the ugliness of the action? Why? In Gene Siskel’s review of Hoffa his one complaint about the movie was that the historical parts were “too pretty.” I can only imagine what he would have thought of this.
*. Part of the recreation with loving care was the digital de-aging of the elderly leads by CGI. Reviews were mixed. I agree with the consensus that they did what they could to take out some wrinkles but they all still look like old men’s bodies with baby-pink faces. More than this, however, I’d complain about the miscasting. Since this may be Scorsese’s last rodeo I can see why he wanted this bunch of actors, but I think most of them are hopelessly miscast. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino don’t look remotely like Frank Sheeran or Jimmy Hoffa. Or Irish. The latter case was really the most egregious. I mean, this is just Pacino doing Pacino. He’s no Jimmy Hoffa. Or Jack Nicholson.
*. If Pacino is just being Pacino then Scorsese is just being Scorsese. This is a well produced film, that moves well enough until its final act, but it’s also a walk down memory lane. And not all of those memories are fond. Remember when I complained about the diner scene in Goodfellas where the action stops and we get a voiceover telling us what we’re seeing? It’s done exactly the same here (in what I think was the same diner even). Then the murder of Jimmy Hoffa is a repeat of the murder of Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas. Why?
*. I wanted to like him, but De Niro seemed to be mailing it in. Especially with the stuttering he develops later as a way of avoiding trying to show real emotion (which I suppose is kind of hard to do with a CGI face). Joe Pesci was the only actor I enjoyed watching and at one point I started wishing the movie had really been about his character. I’m pretty sure Russel Bufalino was a more interesting guy than Frank Sheeran. Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel are faces in the crowd. Ray Romano felt out of place.
*. I mentioned how the movie moves well until the final act. Up till the murder of Hoffa it’s a pretty standard mob story of loyalty, betrayal, family, and business. We’ve been here before many times, but those parts always work. But then there’s half an hour more to run and nothing much happens. Was I suppose to care about Frank’s relationship with is daughter? Because I sure didn’t. I also didn’t understand the idea, suggested by many, that I was supposed to feel sympathy for Frank at the end.
*. Given that the historical basis for the film was Sheeran’s not-so-reliable book, I thought it might have been fun to have played with him suffering from dementia, making some of his memories into gangland fantasies (which they may well have been). This was suggested in Once Upon a Time in America, where the whole thing might have been an opium dream. But then I hated Once Upon a Time in America.
*. I did like Robbie Robertson’s score, the main line of which kept sounding like it was going to break into Led Zeppelin’s version of “When the Levee Breaks.” Aside from that, I found this to be sub-Sopranos, or any of the other really good cable shows that Scorsese seemed to be mainly drawing on. That The Irishman was released on Netflix only draws these connections closer together. Scott Marks, in the San Diego Reader, was even more damning in his review: “He [Scorsese] knew all along that the majority of viewers would come to the film on television, so he shot accordingly. A betting man would wager that well over half the picture was composed in TV-safe closeups and reverse angle shots of well-paid actors talking, the impact of which would not be lost on a flatscreen. I liked it better when Scorsese, not the medium, dictated shot size.”
*. Airbrushed actors, and a director, assembled for a polished homage to their own careers. Watchable, but in no way original or essential. It’s a movie you come to wanting to admire, but it seems to me like a small, slow backward step for everyone.