“The Irishman” is the story of aged Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who reminisces about his life from truck driver to hitman of the Bufalino family. and consequently, the price he had to pay. It is based on based on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt.
Unlike “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” director Martin Scorsese does not glamourise the lives of the mafiosos in his latest film, “The Irishman.” Instead, he shows that there are grave consequences for their actions especially in relation to family bonds.
Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, head of the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family. Russell and Frank’s paths first cross when Frank was a meat delivery man. Later on, they are re-introduced by Russell’s cousin and Frank’s lawyer Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano).
Frank had just won a lawsuit against his employers and so clearly in need of a job. He begins to do jobs for Russell – including ‘paint houses.’ After a while, Russell tells Frank that a friend of theirs ‘at the top is having trouble.’ Following that, Russell introduces Frank to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamster, who has financial ties with the Bufalino family.
Jimmy asks Frank if he would ‘like to be a part of history’ and Frank says yes. So, Frank begins to work for Jimmy. Jimmy takes a real liking to Frank, even makes Frank his bodyguard. He also becomes very close to Frank’s family – especially his first daughter Peggy – whom Russell just couldn’t reach. Frank did not have the best relationship with Peggy either. But she swore by Jimmy. However, Russell and Jimmy end up having opposing interests, Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) becomes a rising Teamster.
As with many mafia films, family is a big deal in “The Irishman.” Family always makes for a good camouflage for underworld dealings. But family also not necessarily biological. Someone gets out of control and a family member has to take him out.
“The Irishman” runs through decades even seeing John F. Kennedy’s election as president and his demise. Scorsese tells his story using flashbacks but it does not feel excessive. Frank is truly respectful of his bosses. He loves Jimmy and Russell but never forgets where he came from. He is loyal. There is also betrayal.
De Niro, Al Pacino and Pesci have lots of experience. One can only expect the best from them and they deliver. Al Pacino portrays the hot-headed, loud and fearless Jimmy compellingly. His performance in the court scene is very memorable. De Niro captured a wide range of emotions in a way only a true veteran can. You might get teary when he finds in himself between a rock and a hard place. Pesci is however, the real McCoy of the trio. He came out of retirement to star in the film and every minute he was onscreen was worth it. Pesci gave an understated yet brilliant performance.
If there was an award for the longest running movie of 2019, Quentin Tarantino and Scorsese would certainly take it. But they’ll probably get more than that when the Golden Globes and Oscar nominations are announced. Just like Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Scorsese damns the consequences and lets his movie run for 3 hours and 29 minutes. “The Irishman” is long! The conflict begins to unravel after about 90 minutes.
“The Irishman” could have been 30 – 45 minutes shorter and the essence of the story would not have been lost. The joy of this movie is in listening. You have to absolutely follow the dialogue to enjoy it. Picture Jimmy when he says, ‘Which Tony? Tony is the only name Italians gives. Tony, Tony, Tony.’ Or when he tells Tony Pro, ‘It’s summer. People aren’t freezing to death in New York. It’s summer.’ Those were certainly brilliant moments Steven Zaillian’s screenplay!
“The Irishman” is streaming on Netflix.