The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★★

This feels like the height of Scorsese's exploration of what it means to live a life of violence; and the consequences that come with such a life. This is a gangster film in which the titular character is fated from the first moment to die without anyone by his side; through all the highs and lows of Frank's life you understand that his sins will follow him into his grave. It's a magnum opus that concludes in the most bleak and cold way possible. Gangster stories have always featured distant fathers and unfaithful husbands; this life of crime typically feeds into a broken home. But the profundity with which Scorsese approaches this idea cannot be understated.

Frank is your typical working stiff; asks no questions and he gets the job done. Loyal, reliable, honest. But his definitive trait, to me, is his ability to dissociate from the present. He doesn't *feel*; and whether this is an inability to do so or an unwillingness to is the central question. There's something horrifying about that ambivalence; something haunting. Where Frank should have experienced immense sorrow, joy or fear; there's nothing. His life that was lived free of epiphanies or catharsis or grief despite so much opportunity for each leaves him alone and empty; unsure whether he lived his life correctly. Whether he was able to feel correctly. It's a uniquely horrifying thing. Gangster flicks generally relate to audiences in with things like greed or evil done in desperation. But not this. This feels different; almost universal. Dramatically more terrifying because from what we see, Frank lives a big life. He kills people, consorts with mob bosses and legendary union leaders, has children, has relationships, travels, spends. There's a party thrown in his honor attended by political leaders and industry titans. How can we hope to relate? How can our lives ever compare in scope? Then to see Frank waiting for death through a crack in the door; alone in the most vulnerable moment of his life. It's heartbreaking. There's no grand judgment that caused this; no prison sentence or vengeful act of violence. Frank just...lived his life wrong. He's old and weak, staring down the barrel of death just like the rest of us will be.

I've seen the Peggy takes all over the internet and as anyone who actually watches this film understands; they're unfathomable. What's great about this film is that is seems to box it's tragedy into what *isn't* said. The scenes that should be there, but aren't. The dramatic monologues and teary-eyed conversations that aren't had. Frank and Peggy's relationship is so meaningful in that it practically doesn't exist. Peggy watches Frank from afar; she understands the violence that dominates his life, and she's afraid of it. The film is narrated by Frank as an old man; it's telling that he cannot recall a single meaningful moment with his daughter. This says more than any amount of dramatic monologues could. Even Frank's final plea to Peggy to just talk is a selfish act; he just wants closure and confirmation that he was a good father before he dies. There's so much power and meaning in her silence.

There's a lot of weight to this thing outside of the screen too. I'm not alone in saying that my entrance to "cinema" was studded with Scorsese films. I remember getting Goodfellas from the library; I remember Taxi Driver and Raging Bull being early favorites. Scorsese led me into an exploration of the bigger gangster genre; films like Once Upon A Time in America, The Godfather, The Untouchables and Casino. You start to get a sense of the history, the players and the artistry. You understand the cultural contexts and what each film is saying beyond just being ludicrously entertaining. The Irishman feels like a bow of sorts for the gangster genre. Such a uniquely American creation; the gangster has been such an alluring and reliably compelling figure for decades now. Fascinations with violence, religion, greed, loyalty and so much more couched within epic tales of rags-to-riches crime and tragedy. But The Irishman largely feels like a statement on the long legacy of these prestige epics; familiar yet groundbreaking, grim but still fantastically entertaining.

But yeah, not that you needed to be told by yet another person but The Irishman is a masterpiece. But more than that, I think it's something of a landmark film; a potent and significant work of art on the screen and off it. De Niro, Scorsese, Pacino, Pesci and Keitel diving once more into the genre that made them legends. It's poetic, really, and moving for the very basic fact that these guys entered the industry and this genre as young men with their lives ahead of them and are leaving it as old men with their best years behind them. There's power to that symmetry between real-life and fiction; You get the sense that this movie just couldn't have been made by anyone but Scorsese; a legendary artist who aged alongside this genre and had a hand in defining it. There's closure here; like the book is being closed on this classic genre. It's fitting too that Frank's character is ultimately obsessed with finality, born from the horrifying realization that the sum of all his evil has led him to being alone in that room after having annihilated the one genuine source of meaning in his life...the one relationship that meant something. That all the closure he desperately seeks and emotions he never experienced will forever remain absent from his life. He is and will be forgotten. It's a gangster epic about the passage of time and the slow decay of a prominent mobster; one of the most monumental films I've been alive for and sort of the ultimate flex from a cast and crew of legends who know this is probably the last ride. Heartbreaking and truly special.

2019 Ranked

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