The Irishman, streaming on Netflix Wednesday and showing in limited theaters the past few weeks, is a crime film made on an epic scale by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese. During its mammoth runtime at 200-plus minutes, The Irishman tells the story of Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman for mobster Russell Bufalino (played by Joe Pesci) and his crime family. Soon, Sheeran becomes the main bodyguard for Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino), the president of one of the largest labor unions in the country.
Watch It: If you want a well-written film with humor at times, outstanding acting, beautiful cinematography, and stories with a slow burn.
Skip It: If you prefer standard-length films, loads of action, bloodless scenes, and films where the musical score plays front and center.
Paying attention to the buzz this film has received as the frontrunner for Best Picture this late in the year, I knew I should try catching The Irishman on the big screen, the way Scorsese intends all of his films to be seen. After 200 minutes of viewing, I didn’t leave thinking I really liked it in the way I like the excitement I just had after going to Disneyland. Rather, I knew I had seen a near-masterpiece, as every passing hour afterwards warmed me up more to what I had just seen.
De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci arguably put in some of the best performances of their careers. Is that saying a lot? Yes. And though all three put in such remarkable performances, it’s Pacino in the lead supporting role that was most outstanding, playing Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino steals whatever scene he’s in with vigor, grit, and his character’s naivety.
Also, because of the film’s mammoth runtime, I was worried that the screenplay would play either too cluttered or too directionless. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and Moneyball) has delivered not only a well-structured script at over 200 minutes, but well-written dialogue filled with realism, research, and humor. Meanwhile, there’s a slow burn imbedded within that some of us viewers won’t notice until the film is nearly over.
My one critique in terms of the writing is that the film does feel its length. A viewer next to me sadly fell asleep 45 minutes in and another I noticed was checking her watch. This is unconventional and late-era Scorsese. This is not Goodfellas or The Departed. This works as a meta story that almost serves as a personal reflection the director has taken on the films he’s made in the past, where violence was so glamorized. Here, violence is not glamorized. Crime is presented in its raw, consequential manner. When someone is shot, it’s authentic, not theatrical.
Visually, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Brokeback Mountain, and Silence) teams up with Scorsese again to deliver beautiful images and angles, framed with such skill that shots are enjoyable to perceive all on their own. In terms of the de-aging process, I was astounded at how well the visual effects team pulled off younger versions of these three characters.
The Irishman is arguably the best film of the year. Is it my favorite of the year? Probably not. Did I like this film more than any other this year? Not necessarily. But the sheer skill and talent that every department has brought to this epic film leaves me to say little other than it being one of the best five, and perhaps the best film of the year. Though it will feel its length for many viewers, especially on the couch, displayed on television, and while we are on our phones, along with some perhaps desiring a bit more from the score, The Irishman is a must see meditation piece that touches on consequences, crime, family, and faith.
Zimm Score: 9.2/10