A profound tale of crime, politics, regret and redemption
Five Satins doo-wop song “In the still of the night” is playing, Sheeran is sat in a wheelchair staring at the camera through his tinted shades, as he begins to take us on a journey fully equipped with the rat-a-tat rhythms of mob talk along with occasional bursts of ultraviolence. The Irishman, is mob movie maestro, Martin Scorsese’s cinematic reunion with his favorite leading men, Robert De Niro from classics such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Joe Pesci from Casino. The boys are back – older but digitally re-aged- only this time, Al Pacino from the ultimate mafia movie, The Godfather has joined team Scorsese; making Irishman one of the seasons most awaited films. So what happens when three of the most well known actors of their league return to the filmmakers’ hunting grounds? Magic. Pure mob magic.
Unlike the pulse pounding Goodfellas, this damning wise-guy epic demonstrates Scorsese’s two distinct sides, the swagger of his mob movies and the reflective religious quality of his spiritual films such as The Last Temptation of Christ and Silence. Framed around a collage of Frank Sheeran’s life, a self-confessed hitman, the movie is the perfect intersection of crime and politics, covering moments in American history such as Castro’s rise in Cuba, the CIAs plotting against him, John F Kennedys assassination, as well as much of the mob turmoil that ensued, while simultaneously tracing Frank’s steady rise in the mob circle. Scorsese has ditched his signature gangster pizzazz and brio, for a rather profound – strictly business – demeanor that demystifies mob glamour with a tone so calm, its bone-chilling.
Adapted by co-writer Steven Zaillian from Charles Brandt’s book “I heard you paint houses” – which in mob lingo means “I heard you’re a hitman”, the movie is based on the real Sheeran’s memoir. Many crime historians have debated against the accuracy of these claims and yet Scorsese isn’t concerned with “what really happened” rather his focus remains on the slow but in evident erasure of Sheeran’s humanity, making Irishman a convincing reconstruction of the truth.
There is an inescapable sense of regret and pride in Sheeran’s confessional monologue as he recalls his prolific hits, including his possible involvement in the disappearance of his then friend Jimmy Hoffa. Although Scorsese has often made an anti-hero out of De Niro in movies such as Mean Streets, this particular role appears to be the most tragic and terrifying one of them all.
Surrounded by an array of volatile characters, Frank’s presence is that of a rock and Jimmy Hoffa played by Al Pacino in contrast, is larger than life, unapologetic and loud. Staking claim as the yeller of the movie, Al Pacino played Hoffa with wit, gusto and absolutely no filter. Russell Bufalino played by Joe Pesci on the other hand – whom Scorsese somehow managed to pull out of retirement – in simple terms is Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas, without the jokes. The understated sotto voce quality of Pesci makes him perhaps one of the most spine-chilling and courtly crime bosses from the Bufalino crime family.
Along the kaleidoscope of decades Sheeran takes us through – aiding to the overwhelming maleness of the movie; we meet several wise guys with names like “Skinny Razor” (Bobby Cannavale), “Sally Bugs” (Louis Cancelmi) and Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel). In true Scorsese fashion each character is introduced with onscreen headlines detailing their name, hour and manner of death. Impeccably shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and brilliantly edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, the flash-back within flashback transitions appear organic, weaving each detail together flawlessly.
The Irishman is a potent cocktail of a film, demonstrating some of Scorsese’s best work, from moments of sadness, regret, and unsettling melancholia to comic relief that runs throughout the movie. Drunk on details while maintaining his tongue in cheek style, Scorsese through Irishman has illustrated his growth not only as a filmmaker but also as a man. Centered on a peace mission of a road trip, the movie literalizes the idea of life being a journey, taking the viewers along for the ride. The Irishman is a movie that gives you the opportunity to sit with it, long after you have seen it, probing at the intricacies of life, sins, gangsterism, warfare, amongst men and nations, It etches away at fading mob glamour to expose the life of a man coming to terms with his wrong decisions, hoping to negotiate with god as he looks back at them.
The Irishman is up on Netflix currently.