The Irishman

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 27, 2019

'The irishman'
'The irishman'  

Available to stream today!

Watching Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" is like taking a walk through the famous director's entire oeuvre, all leading to a conclusion that's not entirely dissimilar from that of David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: The Return" — that retreating into the past won't change the fact that things will never be like they were. These two iconoclasts, who have both been very outspoken about the state of theatrical distribution and cinema as an experience, were given the enormous budgets to stage their retorts, in a way. For all those that derided Scorsese for supposedly making films that support the unchecked male ego, "The Irishman" makes the director's viewpoint even clearer: These violent and broken men are not to be worshipped, as they are constantly twisting the truth to appease the emotional faults that threaten to tear them apart.

So, when the film opens on a slow tracking shot through a dull nursing home with the Five Satins's "In the Still of the Night" playing over it, the funereal mood is set. No matter what we see next, just know that this sad existence of a lying mobster on the precipice of death will always be our reference point.

Based on the 2004 memoir titled "I Heard You Paint Houses," Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) recounts the years in which he acted as a labor union official under Jimmy Hoffa's (Al Pacino) regime. Sheeran is our unreliable narrator as he guides the audience from his job as a meat delivery driver and became one of the most notorious mobsters working within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters because of his relationship with mafia don Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci).

Wait, so why was someone like Sheeran allowed to live out his last years in a nursing home? Well, you see, the truth isn't of the essence here, and it never was in Sheeran's memoir. Every single story he tells could be completely false, or it could be true. At the film's core, this is about Sheeran murdering and exploiting his way to the top, then being tasked with killing the friend he owed his success to. A tragic narrative about a friendship that was fostered and birthed by lies, which is not unsurprising considering Scorsese has challenged the dogmas that send men to violence in many of his other films.

What's so transfixing about "The Irishman" isn't the CGI parlor tricks or the patient but event-loaded runtime; it's the subversion of expectations when it comes to watching three of cinema's acting titans on the same screen for the first time ever. You're almost expecting the three to be outwardly brash, but so much of the film takes place on a psychological level. That isn't to say that this doesn't have some of the most finely tuned and rousing sequences in Scorsese's career. On the contrary, it's just a testament to the filmmaker himself that so much of it can be considered window dressing over something much, much sadder. The faÁade can often be funny, then watching it break apart is one of the most bleakly comic movements ever made.

As for the film's structure, it double and triple backs its way through decades of Sheeran's life, only to find his recollection erratic. It's funny when the film focuses so much of the runtime on Sheeran and Bufalino's long road trip with their chain-smoking wives, because here are these two stone-faced men brought to shambles by their chatty wives. A hilarious denotation, but one that becomes crushing once we realize what the destination ends up being.

De Niro, Pacino and Pesci are all at the top of their games here, too, with Pacino even returning to the coked-out performances of his yesteryear. In a story about stubborn men endlessly trying to grasp onto the last shred of their morals, it's an expert move to cast three actors that do stubborn better than anyone.

"The Irishman" is yet another masterpiece from Scorsese, who very clearly is reckoning with his own life in ways that really lend to a large scope. Maybe we should be rejoicing that Netflix produced something so expensive and personal, then get back to mourning the death of projects like this. No, I think we should sit around and appreciate it while the moment lasts.



Frank Sheeran :: Robert De Niro
Jimmy Hoffa :: Al Pacino
Russell Bufalino :: Joe Pesci
Peggy Sheeran :: Anna Paquin
Angelo Bruno :: Harvey Keitel
Anthony Provenzano :: Stephen Graham
Felix ``Skinny Razor' DiTullio :: Bobby Cannavale
Mary Sheeran :: Aleksa Palladino
Anthony Salerno :: Domenick Lombardozzi
Carrie Bufalino :: Kathrine Narducci
Bill Bufalino :: Ray Romano
Joseph ``Crazy Joe' Gallo :: Sebastian Maniscalco
Allen Dorfman :: Jake Hoffman
Thomas Andretta :: Jeremy Luke
Irene Sheeran :: Stephanie Kurtzuba
Dolores Sheeran :: India Ennenga
Jimmy Neal :: J.C. MacKenzie
Frank ``Fitz' Fitzsimmons :: Gary Basaraba
Robert F. Kennedy :: Jack Huston
Phil Testa :: Larry Romano
Ewing King :: Barry Primus


Director :: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriter :: Steven Zaillian
Director :: Martin Scorsese
Producer :: Robert De Niro
Producer :: Jane Rosenthal
Producer :: Gaston Pavlovich
Producer :: Randall Emmett
Producer :: Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Producer :: Gerald Chamales
Producer :: Irwin Winkler
Producer :: Troy Allen
Executive Producer :: Richard Baratta
Executive Producer :: Niels Juul
Executive Producer :: Jai Stefan
Executive Producer :: Chad Verdi
Executive Producer :: Berry Welsh
Executive Producer :: Tyler Zacharia
Executive Producer :: Rick Yorn
Executive Producer :: Nick Pileggi
Cinematographer :: Rodrigo Prieto
Film Editor :: Thelma Schoonmaker
Original Music :: Robbie Robertson
Production Design :: Bob Shaw
Costume Designer :: Christopher Peterson
Costume Designer :: Sandy Powell
Casting :: Ellen Lewis