The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★½

Ah, time to join the stampede of Letterboxd reviews!

This is a big  achievement that could only have come from Scorsese. Perfectly tailored for its cast, and a deeply personal film for its director. Is it self-indulgent? Certainly, but if you are sympathetic for the journey it goes on, you won’t mind. (That’s my way of saying I’m not sure how people can say the movie doesn’t feel long, it totally does, but it earns it by showing so much of Frank’s life. It took a long time for him, and for us, too)

I haven’t checked out yet the reviews to check this, but I guess that there will be a generational divide in enjoyment for this film. If you are too young to remember who Jimmy Hoffa was, I suspect you will like the film less, not because of the history, but of the tone and kind of film it is. This is a straight up sad film.  The more sad you believe it to be, the more likely you will enjoy this movie. 

Scorsese has always cared about more than just gangsters, even if the public perception of him is that. Here he takes his fascination with world of the mob; the insularity, the machismo, the rules of politeness and fashion, the loyalty (and betrayal) and specific kind of masculinity of it all, and gives us a new reflection on this. By giving the sweep of Frank’s entire life, we see the glamour and fun are rare moments in a working class grind of regular violence, vigilance and obedience to the hierarchy.
(Its not for nothing the French director Melville is referenced by a music cue from “Grisbi” on the soundtrack.)

The opening seems like a meta gesture from Scorsese. From a mostly black frame we move into the nursing home, in a long moving shot. We take in the various details and denizens, taking our time before finding an old man in the corner, when we finally see his face, it is the old Frank. (One thing that helps the de-aging, is that when we first see DeNiro, he already looks quite different to our expectation.)  This long shot evokes
previous technical tricks from Scorsese, but is not glamorous. The subtle shake of the camera also adds to the low-fi affect. 

The performances are all very good. Pacino is great in every scene he is in, giving added energy to the Hoffa plot (which is good because he doesn’t even show up for the first hour) Pesci does quite well in role opposite to his persona. DeNiro also plays a different kind of role, he is not the boss of the casino, just a working guy who got a bit “lucky”

Scorsese and his collaborators are often very good with the use of period specific pop music, and there are some unusual gems here (Canadian Sunset is one) but the use of very familiar tunes and the fact that everybody else uses this stunt now meant that it doesn’t seem quite as fresh here. (The final cue is quite powerful though.)

Everyone uses the word epic, but in reality it is a character piece, and it’s not a retread of Hoffa’s career. (There already is a big movie staring Jack Nicholson about him.) The connection between these three men and the dark choices they made are Scorsese’s real subject. 

Two final points— watching this, it is clear why the studios turned it down. As a passion project for Scorsese, he was not about to make the cuts or up the coolness factor that they would want. It would be a hard sell to them even at a normal budget. (There really was an absurd amount of money spent on this. The streaming wars a good for something at the moment, let’s make sure to get something good out of it before they turn the money taps off!) In a world where serious films are measured by “Joker” and “Once upon a time in Hollywood” this movie would not make a profit in any normal sense.  

I am bad at guessing awards but I do not think this will be a shoo-in at the Oscars either. There are still many people in Hollywood that believe that stuff you watch at home should be given Emmys instead. 

One great little moment not mentioned in discussion so far is the time elderly Frank, walking with his cane down a hallway, slowly falling down helplessly to the floor. This happens in real time, in silence, no music. 

Now that this is out of his system, where will Scorsese go next? I will be interested to find out.

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