The legendary trinity of Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino finally share the screen in the newest high-stakes, city-set nightmare from Martin Scorsese.
Acclaimed director Scorsese’s latest film, “The Irishman,” follows a truck driver named Frank Sheeran (De Niro) in a mafia epic all throughout a lengthy story taking place over several years. Sheeran gets involved with the Bufalino crime family and former union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) as he quickly rises within the mafia’s ranks. The film features Sheeran recalling the most notable moments of his dangerous career, ranging from deadly assassinations to an exploding cleaning services building.
De Niro brilliantly portrays lead protagonist Sheeran. He breathes life into every stage of development his character endures, demonstrating the technical grace that can be reached when de-aging CGI is matched with a solid performance. Sheeran is tasked with balancing the high-stakes life of being in the mafia, raising his daughters and being in a family. De Niro infuses a calm and collected persona both physically and vocally to the character. He is able to convey a wide range of emotions with a simple glare or movement of his eyes. Some of the most powerful moments with Sheeran include no dialogue at all, simply moving because of De Niro’s performance.
Pacino plays wonderfully off of De Niro with his performance as Hoffa. Pacino expresses a powerful dosage of charisma and confidence with his portrayal. Hoffa constantly crosses the line when it comes to taking jabs at people in power, and Pacino enforces this with sharply delivered lines and facial expressions. Pacino himself completely disappears within the role.
Pesci, who came out of retirement for this role, plays the sly and powerful Russel Bufalino. Bufalino has the mafia tied around his finger, organizing plans and hits while simultaneously staying under the radar. Bufalino’s presence in the film dangerously looms over other characters as Pesci somehow expresses an unmatched power and intimidation.
The plot of “The Irishman” spans over several years, events, characters and locations. Running 3 1/2 hours, “The Irishman” surely covers a lot of narrative ground. While at times confusing, Scorsese manages to weave together a nearly seamless retelling of Sheeran’s high-stakes life within the Bufalino mob. Characters come and go, while Sheeran continues to rise in power and respect amongst some of the members of the family. The journey takes Sheeran to some disturbing and questionable place all while audiences receive character narration as he recounts his story. The narration-based element helps to ground the story with audiences and connect them deeper with the main protagonist despite his criminalistic tendencies. By the end of the film, audiences will feel as if they’ve lived a lifetime with Mr. Sheeran, aching at the sight of him losing his youth and grace.
The violence in the film is very abrupt and unstyled. Murders are carried out with swift and disturbing precision, often featuring explicit gore with no protective edits. This makes the world of “The Irishman” feel viscerally dangerous, as it should be. The cinematography itself features a lot of natural lighting, contrasting dark urban environments with dull interior spaces. The poorly lit spaces the characters live within contrast greatly with the ominous and gritty lighting of the restaurants and spaces where the mob resides.
“The Irishman” is a time-twisting, extravagant piece of cinema. Scorsese pulls out all the stops with a film that is not only acted incredibly, but one that is shot, edited, directed and portrayed with excellence.
Rating: 4.5 Irish Men out of 5