Martin Scorsese tracks down the same path as he has done multiple times in the past, attempting to bring his mastery of the mafioso movie to its most polished point.
However, what The Irishman brings is more a farewell to the actors that have partaken in his momentous films in the past rather than something new or more in-depth. This isn’t a bad thing by any means but it feels like an entirely different kind of film in this genre than what Scorsese has brought us in the past. What begins as a latter life journey into the burgeoning life of a mobster, slowly becomes a sprawling biopic of the eponymous Irishman and his links to many mob-related events. Robert De Niro gives a very restrained performance as Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, being groomed from his delivery driver days through to petty theft and doing small errands for Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) until he makes it to becoming almost indispensable. And this restraint continues throughout, never really bringing any peak of excitement or crack in the facade of control. And the same with Pesci too: Russell is so much in control of things he never has to unleash anything like the rage and fury that we’ve seen in his mobster-film past. The upshot of this is that The Irishman’s 3hrs 29mins runtime feels very long and very flat.
There is nothing wrong with this film, but then it didn’t excite as much as it could, or should, have. Alongside Pesci and De Niro, Al Pacino (here as the union boss Jimmy Hoffa, with some of his trademark furious, shouty delivery) feels like he’s not firing on all cylinders, as if there’s noting behind the eyes and no dynamism to his role. It may just be that age has caught up with all of them, and no amount of facial de-aging is able to hide the mobility and energy of a near-80 year old man trying to be 30-40 years younger.
There is a split in the main narrative that does make this film feel like it has two distinct parts: those events surrounding Bufalino and those around Hoffa, with Sheeran being the main link between the two stories. There is a coming together at the end, which works quite well but doesn’t feel like the entirety of the previous 3 hours runtime was worth the wait for.
It could have been the high expectations or the fact that this was the last, late-starting film in a week of film watching, but The Irishman didn’t hit the subtleties or anticipation that I was waiting for.