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The Irishman – Movie Review

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The Irishman – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Netflix

Martin Scorsese is a more versatile director than he’s given credit for and this century has seen him tackle a wide variety of characters. However, he is still most fondly remembered for his gangster pictures. The Irishman occasionally feels like a return to Goodfellas and Casino, yet it’s able to have its own feel and storytelling structure. Even with the familiar use of narration and Robert De Niro, he takes a less flashy approach in directing the film. A lot of The Irishman feels like being a fly on the wall as we watch the relationship blossom between Frank Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa.

There’s a casual feeling as the movie unravels and we see Sheeran’s career goals shift and he fosters new acquaintances and friendships. It’s all compelling and laid out to the audience in a way that is understandable. Many of Scorsese’s films involve violent personalities and how they live in their own underground world. Frank Sheeran continues that tradition and The Irishman surrounds him with personalities that prove just as engaging. Jimmy Hoffa is portrayed as someone with clear political intentions and showing himself as a man of the people, but the movie is able to cleverly depict his darker side. The meetings between the two men do make for entertaining cinema, partly thanks to Steven Zaillian’s smart screenplay and De Niro and Al Pacino’s performances.

To portray the several decades of Sheeran’s life as well as his compatriots, Scorsese has employed special effects technology to de-age the main actors. It is remarkably seamless and after a while, one stops looking for the cracks in the digital Fountain of Youth. Scorsese obviously views these elements as a storytelling tool, rather than a gimmick. The important part is that the actors’ performances still come through. The Irishman is able to take us back in time and Scorsese has a real understanding of the time periods and locations he wants to introduce us to. The film is also partly about family, as we watch Sheeran get so invested in his work and his daughter, once an important part of his life, gets pushed aside.

Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker take a different approach with The Irishman than they did with past gangster epics. The editing is less flashy, as it leisurely moves us from scene to scene. The narration is there, but only really comes through when we need some added information for context. The movie runs three and a half hours and while a bit could have been snipped off, the length isn’t felt too much. By the end, it makes sense why The Irishman is so long. Scorsese wants us to truly get to know every choice Sheeran makes and how he reflects on them.

The Irishman marks another opportunity for Martin Scorsese to depict the history of America, looking at the less explored parts of the country’s past. Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance was one of the great mysteries of the 1970s and this film takes a unique approach at looking at it. Frank Sheeran seems like an unlikely protagonist for a motion picture, but Scorsese and Zaillian are able to tap into why he’s someone worth following. The Irishman might also be one of Scorsese’s most reflective pictures as the 76 year old director sees how the world has changed. This also comes through in Robert De Niro’s performance, which contains some of his best work in years. The entertainment level may be different in The Irishman than in some other Scorsese pictures, but what it says is certainly worth watching.

Stefan Ellison

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