Review: The Irishman

Special thanks to Julia Jarzyna for her artwork seen in the cover image.


Martin Scorsese likes to make films, especially long ones. The king of Mob movies has been a favourite of mine for years, ever since I saw Taxi Driver at the age of 14. Of course, I wasn’t meant to watch it at such a young age, but somehow I think the co

ps have bigger fish to fry. This paved the way to exploring other films, including Goodfellas, The Departed and, more recently, The Wolf of Wall Street, to name but a few. The man has, without a doubt, left a great impression on the world of cinema.

So, when The Irishman was released last year, I was very keen to see it. However, it would turn out to be a while until I got around to watching the 3hr30min film. Don’t ask me why it took so long; the details would bore you. The movie follows the life of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a truck driver who gained favour with the Bufalino crime family and rose to become an influential figure in the American labour (or ‘labor’) movement and organised crime respectively. Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, who serves as a mentor to Sheeran and Al Pacino is the infamous union leader, Jimmy Hoffa. There are strong performances from the other actors, in particular Stephen Graham.

Perhaps what is so special about The Irishman compared to the rest of Scorsese’s filmography is how it details events that really happened in the history of American crime. Sure, he tackled the life of boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull and the life of reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes in The Aviator, amongst others, but this is the first – to my knowledge – of Scorsese’s Mob films that is meant to be entirely based on fact. And what makes it all the more moving is the conviction with which the actors play their parts and make the spectacle into something close to living history.

Now I’m not saying Scorsese hasn’t adapted nonfiction before, it’s just that the convincing and slick fluidity of this film is what sets it apart from some of his other work. It doesn’t feel as long as it is. And as Alec Baldwin himself said on The Howard Stern Show: this is probably the last time we’ll be able to see these guys do something like this again.

The subtlety in Scorsese’s evocation of morality is at once powerful and masterful. Despite the violence and the unscrupulous conduct of the Mob, we still feel the depth of the adoration and respect the lead characters have for each other, even when they do compromising things that would suggest otherwise.

All other critics blabber on about the special effects and how some of the ageing techniques used on the lead actors weren’t that effective. I was aware of this before I saw the film, and even then, I barely noticed what they were talking about. Perhaps this is because they were desperate to find fault in what is, ultimately, a fine film for the ages.

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