The Irishman (2019)

*. 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.

35 thoughts on “The Irishman (2019)

  1. Over-The-Shoulder

    “Airbrushed actors, and a director, assembled for a polished homage to their own careers.” Yep, that’s it. De Niro has been phoning it for a while, and it’s no different here. All a bit of a waste of time for me.

    1. Alex Good

      The only thing I can say in their defence is that De Niro and Scorsese are both really old now. I don’t want to seem ageist, but you reach a point where it’s just not reasonable to expect first-rate work anymore, even if they did have something new to express, which they don’t here.

      1. Over-The-Shoulder

        Woah! Be careful what you say, Alex. Can’t give them any dirt on you – next thing you’ll know they’ll start calling you “Ageist Alex”. Don’t believe me? Here’s a case study: all the abuse that Dix has been getting for ruining Paddington 2’s perfect Rotten Tomatoes score. Yes, while it is hilarious, it proves you can’t give them anything!

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Well, I haven’t seen Paddington 2 (or Paddington 1) so I can’t say if that was deserved. But it probably was. There are no perfect movies so there should be no perfect movie scores. And I’ve taken lumps for being ageist before, which I can handle because I’m old-ish myself.

      3. Over-The-Shoulder

        Obviously, Paddington 2 is not a perfect film, or the best film ever made. But it’s still funny. Not for him, probably. But for everyone else, at least. Or just me.

      4. Over-The-Shoulder

        And I see he has his comments turned off on his newest post too. Must be scary being famous, eh? I just find it funny that people got so angry, clearly not knowing that you can’t take anything he says seriously.

      5. fragglerocking

        I don’t think he’s scared one bit, probably just fed up with policing the stupidity. I don’t think any of it is funny, and in real life Dix is well respected in movie land so you can certainly take his reviews seriously, I do, as I do Alex’s and yours.

      6. Over-The-Shoulder

        As a fellow misanthropist, I’m not surprised that people are struggling to comprehend what’s going on with their little brains. I, of course, take his reviews seriously, because he’s a very good writer, however much it pains me to say it. The same goes for Alex, and you as well, dear Fraggle.

  2. fragglerocking

    Another Scorsese gangsterfest, I did the same as you and reviewed one after the other, and this one was a faux pas I think. Joe Pesci still the one to watch though and I think we then went on to do My Cousin Vinnie just to see him on fire again.

  3. tensecondsfromnow

    Speaking as the ‘murderer of Paddington’, I feel that no text is above criticism. While there are striking moments in the Irishman, it’s too long, too overblown, and not great as drama or history. We can agree on this one.

    1. Alex Good

      Strange the way things blow up like that online. You never know what’s going to go viral.
      I suspect I would like The Irishman more than Paddington 2. But I’m pretty sure I’m never going to have to put that to the test.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I probably would diss Paddington if I knew him better. But I haven’t seen any of the movies. I think I may have read one of the books when I was a kid. Something about feeding him marmalade sticks in my head. I feel safe in saying that our paths will never cross though, so I will leave him to your tender mercies. And let everyone complain as much as they want. It won’t bring him back.

      2. tensecondsfromnow

        I didn’t kill him! I am not his assassin or his murderer! Fake news! It’s like being the millionth person through the door of your local supermarket; a brouhaha, yes, but could have been anyone. He kept marmalade sandwiches under his floppy hat, back in the day. Seems to have a loyal fanbase for sure…

      3. Alex Good Post author

        Look, there’s a dead bear on the ground and you’re just standing there looking guilty. I’m afraid it’s a slam dunk.

      4. tensecondsfromnow

        I accuse you of having a negative attitude to Paddington, and will be happy to supply your details to the torchbearing mob. Aren’t bears a Canadian thing?

      5. fragglerocking

        Actually Paddington came from Peru already dressed in the raincoat and floppy hat, with a satchel of marmalade sandwiches. We don’t have any bears at all, clothed or naked. (Except in wildlife parks or zoos I think).

      6. Alex Good Post author

        Hm. Very informative, but the narration is all in that plummy accent. Seems like Paddington should be introducing himself by saying “Buenos días, señor.” Being a stowaway explains why he dresses like a derelict, which probably won him some sympathy points from the couple at the train station.

      7. Over-The-Shoulder

        Why does Paddington speak the queen’s English? Well, the explorers who found his family in the wilderness and then taught them English were from England. So that’s the version of English that he learned. Later, seeking these same explorers, he came to London, and continued with this accent.

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