The story seems familiar. It includes elements we’ve seen in other mob movies, including its three main cast members. Nevertheless, The Irishman is an epic. For many reasons.
Yes, it’s long. Three-and-a-half hours. But it rarely drags. Could the story have been told in a shorter movie? Yes. I compare this film to a 600-page novel. Could such a story be trimmed to 350 pages? Sure, but you lose character development and small episodes that contribute to the texture of the whole narrative.
Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is The Irishman. His story is told in flashbacks and in flashbacks within flashbacks. (Don’t worry, there’s no Christopher Nolan Inception-type business to decode.)
Frank is a Philadelphia truck driver. Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) takes Frank under his wing and connects him to a variety of mob types including numerous real-life hoods such as Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel). Frank quickly moves from small tasks to “painting houses,” which is code for killing.
Eventually, Frank, a loyal Teamster, is pegged to be bodyguard and travel partner for Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Although Hoffa’s real-life legacy is that of a ruthless strongman, he is also shown to be a teetotaler family man whose main vice is ice cream.
It’s always good to see De Niro in a non-comedic role. Some of his reactions in The Irishman recall those from his Focker movies, SNL bits and other lighter roles, but this character is serious about what he does.
Pacino as Hoffa is loud and boisterous, a bully. Hoffa is recalled nowadays mainly from old news clips but Pacino gives him new life.
Pesci’s character is a low-key guy who communicates directly and clearly but without the bombast some of his other characters have employed. Of the three principal stars, Pesci’s performance is best because he does not overact. Also, while De Niro and Pacino have been seen in movies and on TV in recent years, Pesci has been mostly MIA. It’s great to see him back onscreen.
Because the story is told in flashbacks, Frank and Russell are depicted at various stages of life over a 50 or so year span. Makeup and special effects teams on this movie have done a spectacular job of making these depictions believable. Bravo!
Martin Scorsese directing another mob movie with old mob movie stars? Could’ve been a lame imitation of his past work but The Irishman is fresh and compelling from beginning to end. An epic.