Some people rebel for as long as they can;
They buck every trend and defy every plan.
But others are quiet and willing and pleased
To do as they’re told, keep the masters appeased,
And these are the ones you must watch and beware,
The don’t-rock-the-boat-ers, who heed but don’t care,
For with the right orders behind such as they,
The renegades pale next to those who obey.
MPAA rating: R
After over a week of delay, I’m finally getting to the last of 2019’s Best Picture nominees, which just so happens to be the last one I saw and the least good, in my opinion. I’ll freely admit that I have little love for the gangster genre or for Martin Scorsese’s films (honestly, Hugo is the only one I’ve cared to see), and The Irishman did nothing to remedy that opinion. There’s a fine film somewhere in it, but you’ll likely fall asleep before you get to it.
The three-and-a-half-hour plot plays out as a mob epic, spanning decades and following the life of ex-GI Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), an Irish meat delivery driver, who happens to meet Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and from there becomes gradually introduced to the shady but profitable world of organized crime. Settling into a job of “painting houses” or murder for hire, Frank proves to be a talented hitman and eventually becomes the body guard and right-hand man of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Yet, as Hoffa’s interests begin to stray from those of the mob families, Frank feels his loyalties torn and must figure out how to live with his decision.
Based on the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman feels detailed and comprehensive in its depiction of the Philadelphia underworld and certainly believable in showing how a nobody like Frank could rise through the ranks. The Oscar-nominated effects used to de-age the three main characters are also highly convincing, an illusion broken only by the knowledge of what they actually look like right now. And of course, it certainly has star power, further aided by the presence of Ray Romano, Harvey Keitel, and Bobby Cannavale, who all fit their unscrupulous characters to a T. It’s not quite as violent as I feared from Scorsese, but it feels like he’s definitely in his comfort zone.
Yet, for all of its seemingly lofty ambition, The Irishman, put simply, drags. Even watching on Netflix from home, you’d have to be truly fascinated by the gangster genre (or just feel obligated to get through it, in my case) to watch the whole thing in one sitting, and I can’t help but think it would have been better served as a miniseries. Just like with Peter Jackson and The Hobbit trilogy, there comes a time when a director becomes so enamored with his subject matter that he can’t bear to edit it properly. It’s a quality production from beginning to end; there’s just too much in between them.
In addition, while the acting was good overall and both Pacino and Pesci snagged Supporting Actor nominations, I can see why De Niro was not similarly honored. Beyond the oddness of an Italian actor playing an Irishman surrounded by Italians, the role of Frank Sheeran is fairly one-note until the very end, always doing what’s expected of him and letting himself be controlled by his bosses and his temper. De Niro gives a solid performance but doesn’t give Frank enough depth, just as The Irishman is a decent gangster movie but fails to distinguish itself among the rest of the genre. I liked aspects of the production, such as Frank’s narration and the labels thrown up to introduce certain characters and the usually violent ways they died, which strengthened the theme of the gangster life being ultimately hollow, but there’s little reason that I would watch The Irishman again, at least not all at once.
Best line: (Whispers DiTullio) “To tell you the truth, I’m a little concerned.”
(Frank Sheeran, narrating) “Whenever anybody says they’re a little concerned, they’re very concerned.”
(Whispers) “As a matter of fact, I’m really more than a little concerned. “
(Frank, narrating) “And when they say they’re more than a little concerned, they’re desperate.”
Rank: Dishonorable Mention
© 2020 S.G. Liput
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