Review: ‘The Irishman’ is a masterpiece’

Photo courtesy of AP Images. This Sept. 30, 2019 photo shows actor Al Pacino, from left, director Martin Scorsese, and actor Robert De Niro posing for a portrait to promote their upcoming film “The Irishman” in New York.

BY GAIL PISCHAK

STUDENT CONTRIBUTOR

‘The Irishman’ is poetic, epic and long. Still, the three hours and twenty-three minutes flew by, and the last hour will keep you spellbound. It’s a Martin Scorsese masterpiece and really should be seen on the big screen before its Netflix release on Nov. 27, 2019.

The movie is based on the book by Charles Brandt, “I Heard You Painted Houses.” It tells the fascinating story of Frank Sheeran, a World War II combat veteran who saw action in Italy. The books chronicles Frank’s rise in the Mafia to a trusted “painter”, code for a sanctioned killing. You can guess what the paint was. As his reputation grew, he became a powerful union leader who used humor and understated intelligence to build his loyal base. His rise to power comes courtesy of two men: Russel Bufalino, his mentor and known Philadelphia Mafia boss and later, Jimmy Hoffa, President of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters Union from 1957 to 1971.

Frank Sheeran, played by Robert DeNiro, uses a reflective narrative to recall the events that shaped his life. The glory days are gone, all his gang friends have died, and he is living the last of his days as an invalid in a nursing home. The plot unfolds as a series of flashbacks and becomes a historical manifesto on a period in U.S. criminal history that could be used as an excellent textbook. 

Al Pacino plays Jimmy Hoffa. He is in a word…electric. One of the movie’s subplots is Sheeran’s complicated relationship with Hoffa. His union speech scenes are merely breathtaking, and he more than captures the essence of Hoffa’s charisma and cruelty. The last hour of the movie zeroes in on Hoffa’s last days and Sheeran’s possible involvement in Hoffa’s violent death.

De Niro is Pacino’s foil. He is understated, incredibly funny, and always looking for ways to keep the peace. He plays an emotionally distant man who looks for his heart and his conscience in his dying days. It was almost shocking to see this strong, unstoppable man become…well…old. Even gangsters get old if they live that long. 

To see De Niro and Pacino together is like watching a slow waltz, with bursts of hip hop. Their chemistry is palpable and their mutual affection, undeniable.

Sheeran’s mentor and the man responsible for giving him his life is Russel Bufalino, played by a magnificent Joe Pesci. He came out of semi-retirement to play perhaps the best role of his life. He is thoughtful, careful, loyal and most surprising, loving. There aren’t enough words to describe his performance and the performance of all the actors. Simply top shelf on all levels.

Martin Scorsese directs this $160 million masterpiece. He is known, in part, for making movies about crime and gang conflicts. Revisiting this theme, Scorsese uses familiar signature elements to tell this story. There’s plenty of profanity and graphic violence. His use of slow motion, freeze frames, long tracking shots and fast-paced editing help shape and then define the brilliance of his directing. The cinematography is sweeping, and the production design is detailed and elaborate. This is man’s man movie…women are portrayed as innocent and sweetly homey. Their minor roles in the film are not lost on the audience. AND even that flaw is forgivable, given the excellence of the film.

‘The Irishman’ was produced by Netflix. Unlike ‘Roma,’ which was initially released through Netflix and then jumped to the big screen, this film was firstly widely released and then moved to a Netflix release date towards the end of the month. Netflix has become a serious contender in the movie-making business. It will remain to be seen how the voting academy responds to this marketing gamble and to Netflix.

‘The Irishman’ is an incredible piece of historical storytelling.

It deserves 4.5 out of 5 stars. Please see it on the big screen. It’s possible that the beauty of seeing it on a big screen will be diminished by viewing it on the small screen.

Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Jesse Piermons, Sebastian Maniscalco, Kathrine Narducci, Domenick Lombardozzi, Jim Norton, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Larry Roamno, Jake Hoffman, J.C. MacKenzie,Patrick Gallo, India Ennenga, Jeremy Luke, Barry Primus, Jack Huston, Gary Basaraba, Stephen Graham, Aleksa Palladino.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Released by Netflix

Running Time: 3 hours, 23 minutes

Gail Pischak, is a second-semester film study who hope to make short documentaries one day. Her hobby is movies, movies, movies.

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