It will be a relief to subscribers to our YouTube channel that The Irishman is not about the A-list film star who has presented some of our mini films seen here and here. Instead it’s the long awaited return to mob movies by maestro Martin Scorsese that reunites him with Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, has bought Joe Pesci out of retirement and sees Al Pacino working with the director for the first time.
Based on Charles Brandt’s book, ‘I hear you paint houses’, mob talk for carrying out hits and splattering the walls, De Niro plays the Irishman Frank Sheeran, a truck driver, who is helped out one day by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) to repair his truck and bumps into him again sometime later and bit by bit starts off getting involved with Bufalino’s mob connections and keen to repay his gratitude Sheeran boasts he can get his mob boss the best steaks. It all starts pretty low key with Sheeran running a scam where he starts skimming off beef carcasses to the mob boss until he’s eventually caught and the mob provide him with Bufalino’s brother, Bill, who gets him off the hook. The hooky lawyer is played by comedian Ray Romano and is something of a surprise as like many comics he turns out to be a really great actor.
But it’s from here that Sheeran is drawn into the inevitable corruption of his very soul with him moving up the ranks and becoming a trusted lieutenant carrying out hits galore and at times running close to the wind himself when he almost takes a job on the side paid to a bun down a rival laundry company that turns out to be a cover for mob man Angelo Bruno played by Harvey Keitel after a long absence from the Scorsese stable having been an regular in his early films ‘Mean Streets’ and the seminal ‘Taxi Driver’. But it’s from here that Sheeran’s good work is called on by Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), teetotal, ice cream chomping, legendary union boss of the US Teamsters. Now long forgotten he was a man who epitomized the good that a union can do having got his members medical cover and decent pensions from an enormous slush fund that he started using as a personal slush fund for investing in Vegas casinos. It’s Pesci’s mob boss who sends Sheeran to become an enforcer for Hoffa increasing the power and influence of the Teamsters union and making Hoffa an ever more powerful figure that had Robert Kennedy coming after him by any means.
At the centre of this ultimately is the downfall of Hoffa, having been convicted for fraud he becomes obsessed with the idea that the union is his and having served his prison time he should be reinstated as the boss and can’t help shouting his mouth off regardless of the consequences for anyone else. So when It starts drawing attention to the mob who are happy with the current status quo you know its curtains for him in one of the films many excellent scenes with De Niro’s Irishman warning him in the nicest possible way that he needs to let it lie only to find Hoffa refusing implying that he’ll bring the mob down if he isn’t supported in his quest for power. From that point you know that his fate is sealed. After this it all leads towards the inevitable where for Sheeran it’s just another day at the office whacking anyone who causes the mob problems and to this day Hoffa’s body has never been found though the film gives its version of what happened to the union boss.
The Irishman can be seen as the final part of Scorsese’s mob movies starting with Goodfellas, (the only film that vies with The Godfather as the greatest mafia film ever made), followed by Casino. This is an epic three and half hour film and is as much a bladder endurance test if you’re seeing this in the cinema (it comes to Netflix after a theatrical release so at least you can pause it for a toilet break) and despite that there’s little if any sagging moments in this with nearly every scene crucial to plot development. The starry cast is as good as you would expect though Pacino is in danger of repeating his shouty mannerised performances these days. De Niro is low key with his family life never fully explored as his young daughters look on in silence at their Dad’s brutal ways, Keitel is underused but perhaps the two real stand outs are Joe Pesci and our very own Stephen Graham. Pesci has not made a film since 2010 and his Oscar winning role in Goodfellas cast a very long shadow almost impossible to escape but here he is sublime, his shady dealings epitimised by his tinted glasses where you can’t see what he’s really thinking and there’s none of the histrionics or showiness of Pacino. Stephen Graham as competing union mobster big wig who’ is equally corrupt and is more than up to holding the eye with his scenes with Pacino and de Niro and a hilarious argument about being late.
Produced by De Niro also The Irishman has taken years to get to the screen and should figure large when the awards season begins in earnest, Scorsese is back at the top of his game setting the pace from the start with his masterful use of music matched with one of several long takes that weaves through the locations as an almost decrepit Sheeran tells the story in retrospect and despite what has been said about the de-aging process it’s all brilliantly done and doesn’t detract from what’s going on. In fact it’s as the story goes on and they all are shown as old men especially Pesci that is a bit of a shock. Like Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas, The Irishman also uses a voiceover that take us through the decades in what is a grim existence with occasional characters briefly introduced only to have an on-screen bio about how they all end up being shot in the most gruesome ways.
Don’t be put off by the running time – this is perhaps best viewed as a cinematic experience without the distractions of watching it at home and it’s another compelling insight into mob life stripping away the glamour showing that the easy money comes at a price – prison, an early brutal death or in Sheeran’s case a lonely end to his life alienated from his daughters. The Irishman is one of 2019’s great films
Here’s the Irishman trailer…….