Despite being widely hailed as America’s greatest living director, Martin Scorsese has often been snubbed at the Academy Awards.
After his “consolation” Oscar in 2007 for the merely workmanlike The Departed, it seems that the brilliant auteur of gangster epics such as Goodfellas and Casino is finally in line to be fairly honoured thanks to The Irishman, his masterly, career-capping meditation on crime and its consequences.
Based on the biography I Heard You Paint Houses – the title a brutal joke about how a hitman “paints” a wall with blood after pumping a few bullets into his victim’s head – Irishman is a sprawling gangster opus about Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a Teamsters truck driver who gets hired as a leg breaker by mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci).
The plot accelerates when corrupt Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) arrives on the scene and becomes increasingly entwined with these gangsters – including illegally loaning them huge sums of money out of union pension funds.
The storyline covers about 40 years, with highlights including the Mob’s alleged involvement in the Kennedy assassination, the gunning down of notorious mobster Crazy Joe Gallo, and, towards the film’s end, ever-mounting suspense as the arrogant and reckless Hoffa has a falling out with the Mafia and his mysterious “disappearance” becomes inevitable.
All the Scorsese trademarks are here, from the dark wit and sudden eruptions of violence to virtuoso editing and a lively period soundtrack (this one more doo-wop than Rolling Stones). But the exuberance and bravado of his earlier gangster films gradually gives way to a somber spirit of regret. Notably, when that bravura dolly shot that glides through the Copacabana nightclub in Goodfellas is referenced, it now becomes a stark tour through a hospital that eventually takes us to an elderly and lonely Sheeran slumped in a wheelchair and brooding about eternity.
Replete with stellar performances – including excellent supporting work from Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, and Ray Romano, amongst others – Irishman never drags despite its 209 minutes of running time. This is Scorsese in top form, and he takes the audience on a serious, thoughtful journey through a darkness likely beyond redemption.
After a limited theatrical release, The Irishman begins streaming on Netflix on Nov. 27.
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