It’s been roughly a month since the Streaming Wars have picked up steam with the release of Disney Plus. In my last review, I said Netflix still has a few aces up its sleeve, with the instant classic that was Klaus, which I still claim is a must see for this and every upcoming holiday season until the end of time. But behind the scenes, one man has fired shots at Disney, or at least one brand under the House of Mouse. That man is none other than Martin Scorsese. Recently, the filmmaker has belittled the Marvel Cinematic Universe every chance he can, claiming the movies aren’t “real cinema”, that it’s a minor miracle that the actors are able to give good performances with the lackluster material they have to work with, and that each installment is more of an “amusement park ride” than a film. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, what with the countless movie reviews and think piece articles that are always claiming that “superhero fatigue” is coming any day now, only for the latest three Marvel movies to gross a billion dollars or more each. Mister Scorsese has every right to his opinion, however, it is humorous that he claims that the MCU is what is ruining cinema, when many critics say the same about the outlet that is hosting his latest film, Netflix, the scourge of the movie and television industry, according to Scorsese's friend, Steven Spielberg. This is Netflix’s biggest original film since Bright, a movie that had me puzzled at the time if it was a sign that Netflix had made it big as a studio because they got Will Smith, or if Will Smith had truly fallen as a star that he’s doing a movie for Netflix. But is this new movie any good though? Let’s find out.
The Irishman (or I Heard You Paint Houses) is Scorsese’s latest entry in his infamous “ex-mobster talks about his glory days” sub-genre, alongside the likes of Goodfellas and Casino. This time around, we have Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, a World War 2 veteran who becomes a hit man for the Mafia, and then a bodyguard for Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino), the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Completing the Holy Trinity (if you will) is Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, who befriends Sheeran and introduces him to his mob boss, leading to his meteoric rise in the ranks. Rounding out the cast are a who's who of character actors, including Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Jesse Plemons, and Anna Paquin. Over the course of the film, Sheeran tells tales about the events surrounding the JFK presidency and Hoffa’s notorious disappearance, although Sheeran comes across as an unreliable narrator by the end of the movie, and everything he has told us shouldn’t be accepted as one-hundred percent fact.
I have conflicting thoughts about this movie, so I’ll start with the good stuff. A major aspect of this movie that had everyone talking was the use of de-aging technology, similar to the kind that Marvel has used in a half dozen of their last few movies. I must say, the effect was nearly seamless. De Niro did look thirty years younger, however, there were at least two close-up scenes where De Niro’s face had an unnaturally glossy shine to it. There’s also the fact that De Niro is wearing blue eye contact lenses, which can be distracting from time to time. Scorsese’s direction is great as always. You get his usual tropes; lots of voiceover narration, classic music playing in the background, people getting shot in the head when they least expect it, people eating delicious looking Italian food, some Christian imagery here and there, and women in bare minimal roles, but all expertly filmed. There’s also his trademark editing “mistakes,” where an actor’s hands or heads are never in the same place during shot/reverse shot conversations, or objects not be in the same areas they were left in from scene to scene. This will no doubt enrage eagle eyed viewers like myself.
The acting is a bit of a mixed bag. This is easily the best movie that De Niro and Pacino have been in for a long time (to be fair, Pacino was also in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood earlier this year) as they are sadly in the stages of their careers where they will say “yes” to any project that comes across their desks (although not nearly as bad as the unwatchable trash that Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley agree to appear in these days). It’s often laughable to see De Niro and Pacino in scenes together. You have De Niro who barely ever talks and is all internal about his performance, while you have Pacino dying inside as he waits for the next time that he can cut loose and chew up the scenery. Thankfully, Pacino only has one major screaming fit, and has a quiet intensity for the rest of the movie. De Niro, however, is kinda boring and forgettable by comparison. Almost all his screen time is spent with him staring off into the distance with a blank expression on his face, or mumbling his lines. Yes, that’s De Niro’s style of acting, but this gets way too repetitive. The most valuable actor of the movie, in my opinion, is Joe Pesci. This is one of his more laid back performances, there’s no screaming or violent outbursts against anyone. Pesci is unofficially retired, but it was nice to see him in what could be his last time on screen. Ideally, he would win, or at the very least be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. It is rather sad though, to see these actors drastically age over time as the story progresses. By the end, it’s wholly depressing, because it’s not all that far from real life.
That’s all the good stuff I have to say about the film, now onto the not so good stuff. First and foremost, this movie is way too long, at an epic three hours and thirty minutes! This story could have been easily told within two hours. In fact, around the two hour mark, I had to pause the movie and have dinner, because I just couldn’t sit and watch this for another hour and a half! That last half hour was the most pointless, as it’s just clips of Sheeran’s twilight years, and lots of reminders that Scorsese was originally going to be a priest and that he’s still full of Catholic guilt to this very day. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of scenes of just De Niro sitting around with a blank expression on his face, and it gets repetitive and boring quickly. The dialogue, while well written and believable, can get repetitive as well, to the point that you can make a drinking game out of the number of times that Pacino’s Hoffa calls someone a certain slur that begins with the letter “c."
But the biggest letdown of the movie, besides the length being unbearably long, is that the movie just doesn’t live up to Scorsese’s previous work. This film feels like the final installment of a trilogy, along with Goodfellas and Casino, and their “let me tell you how awesome it was to be in the mafia” storylines. However, this is easily the weakest of all three movies. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before from Scorsese, and most of it is quite forgettable once you’re done watching it. By no means is the movie awful, but at the same time, it’s not good enough to be considered a masterpiece of any kind. I can respect Netflix for backing an ambitious production like this, which went well over budget and over schedule, but I have doubts about if it was really worth it. Perhaps we will know for sure come Oscar season.
Overall, I give The Irishman a solid three out of five stars. While well crafted and acted, it’s nothing all that special. Yes, it was great to see De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci together, but it doesn’t warrant the film being on par with a Lord of the Rings movie in terms of length. If you’re a die hard fan of any of those three actors or Scorsese as a filmmaker, feel free to watch it, but I can only recommend doing so in one hour sessions, because watching the whole movie in one sitting is quite taxing. That concludes this fan-picked review. And remember, when it comes to the media that you consume, be like Indiana Jones, and choose wisely.
Great (possibly last) performance by Joe Pesci.
De-aging CGI is nearly seamless.
The usual great filmmaking quality from a Scorsese movie.
The runtime is three and a half hours long!
Is outright boring at times.
Is nothing we haven’t seen before in better movies like Goodfellas.
Verdict: *** (three out of five stars).