Very few filmmakers have enjoyed such storied and long-lasting careers as Martin Scorsese, Hollywood icon. Over 5 decades in the business he has made countless classics including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino. The Irishman, Scorsese’s first mob drama since 2006’s The Departed, and his first collaboration with Robert De Niro in 25 years, ranks among his very best.
The film recounts the story of mafia-linked hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who is in his twilight years, alone in a nursing home as he recounts his involvement in a slew of hits stretching back to the 1950s, with a particular emphasis on his involvement with the notorious union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The film perfectly encapsulates American culture and history from the 50s to 70s with a slew of historical events unfolding in the background. Through Frank’s eyes, we witness the rise of the Kennedys and JFK’s assassination, as well as events including the Bay of pigs fiasco and the Watergate scandal under President Nixon. The film for me works exceptionally well as a spiritual successor to Goodfellas and Casino, presenting a less glamorous side to the Mob lifestyle, as the titular Irishman struggles to come to terms with his life of crime and the ensuing strain it places on his relationship with his family, particularly with his daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin). The film ultimately has a lot to say about loss and the ageing process as we see Frank reach the latter stages of his life.
Robert De Niro has traditionally thrived in these sorts of roles and, under Scorsese’s direction, the same can be said of Joe Pesci. However, with De Niro’s recent career consisting of low-level comedies and spoofs of his earlier works, it’s great to see him back on top form here. The film’s standout for me is Al Pacino. His role here as Jimmy Hoffa is Pacino at his scenery-chewing best, allowing him to flex acting muscles he hasn’t used since the likes of Michael Mann’s Heat in 1995, where he was also opposite De Niro. It seems highly likely Pacino and Pesci will be competing against each other for Oscar glory.
Much has been made of the digital de-aging technology, used to make the characters look younger in extended flashback sequences. While this can be jarring at first, it is employed to good effect and is not a distraction from the film’s overall quality. The Irishman is getting a Netflix release at the end of November, but, despite its hefty 3 ½-hour runtime, it’s worth seeking out a cinema to see this late career masterpiece from some of Hollywood’s finest.