The Irishman

CRIME DRAMA; 3hr 29min

STARRING: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

Glass darkest: De Niro

Director Martin Scorsese and his reliable lion De Niro are twin cinema souls with nine features together under their belts. The Irishman is the director’s magnum opus and the pair’s first biggie since 1995’s Casino, and their collaborative gears are synching as smoothly as ever. 


Based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, Steven Zaillian’s screenplay is a juicy, scrupulous, custom-cushioned ride, with De Niro as the Irishman of the hours, Frank Sheeran, a reticent truckie and World War II veteran to whom similarly understated Mob boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci) takes a liking. When one thing leads to another, as such things tend to do, Frank becomes Russell’s trusted lieutenant and friend. 


“You followed orders, you did the right thing, you got rewarded,” Frank reasonably explains as a geezer looking back on his glory days. And if those orders include a bullet or two to the head, then meh, so be it. Business is business, and Scorsese’s ganglanders are nothing if not pragmatic.


It’s through Russell that Frank goes on to do yet more underbelly business with mouthy Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino, rousing rabble as only Pacino can) — that is, until his key role in Hoffa’s mysterious 1975 disappearance. 


The corridors of power through which these impassive predators prowl are soaked with cool exactitude by Scorsese in decades of blood and bile, their reach even extending to the hallowed Kennedy family. But you don’t need to write the book on Mob politics to revel in the buzz of the Big Three, together in a Scorsese picture for the first time as both digitally de-aged versions of their characters and the shop-soiled husks those characters can’t help but become. Each step toward that karmic end is a strategic increment in a massive tapestry of moments. Whether playing to the gallery, plotting their shady moves in deserted restaurants, extolling the virtues of friendship and family, at each other’s throats like kids in a schoolyard or coolly doing what demands to be done, Scorsese’s biggest guns wear the weapon of amorality like a leathery second skin.

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