The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★★

The Letterboxd Era Catch-Up 4: 53 Days a Slave

The Irishman is the Martin Scorsese film that I've been waiting for.

I've had a mixed relationship with Scorsese over the years. The Departed, a crime thriller, was a slam-dunk with me for obvious reasons. I liked Goodfellas but I didn't love it. I respected Taxi Driver and Mean Streets but didn't really like them, so much. I don't really remember how I felt about Raging Bull. I disliked The Wolf of Wall Street.

It's really been his duet of 80s black comedies, The King of Comedy and After Hours, that have stuck with me and stuck in my mind as being my favourites from him. Two of the films widely regarded as Scorsese wandering off the beaten path - or his 'offbeat' projects. It's felt like across all the films of his that I've liked or respected that there's that one film in him that I would absolutely latch on to. Bits and pieces, if assembled into a whole that would completely work for me.

The Irishman is that film - but I also wonder if I liked this so much because it actually could be seen as slightly offbeat itself, within the Scorsese canon. Alright, it's a Mob crime film. He's done that sort of thing before, or so I've heard. But the violence is reduced quite considerably, as is the level of aggression on show, for something that is rather more sombre.

This gives Scorsese an alternative route to telling the story of a bad person. Robert De Niro's Frank Sheeran may well be quieter in his nature and unfailingly loyal to the man who took a chance on him, but as the film progresses it becomes slowly apparent just how unrepentant he is about what he has done. Something that comes to a head when he's visited by a couple of cops, practically begging him to tell them what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa. He can't and won't give closure to Hoffa's family because "I don't really know his family".

It was almost a gasp-inducing line that really rams home what this man is. His daughter has him figured from the moment he beats up a guy in front of her as a youngster. She also has Joe Pesci's Russell Bufalino figured out too. The relationship between her and her father is presented as no more than a sideline, but it's utterly integral to characterising Sheeran here. He says late on in the film that he lost her the day he rung Hoffa's wife after his 'disappearance'. He doesn't see that he lost her many years earlier.

He really doesn't see anything other than a criminal code of honour. The silent contempt he's given by Anna Paquin especially, in an almost wordless role, is the most effective storytelling when it comes to the distance between two family members that I've seen for some time. Having thought about it, this entire non-interaction between them both could be my absolute favourite thing about The Irishman.

It's a movie populated by subplots and side characters but they all matter. It's far from a checklist of characters and incidents that happened during this time period, they're all building blocks in a narrative that packs out its lengthy running time yet never gets confused with itself. Scorsese is wise to keep the focus almost entirely on Sheeran, so there is a constant central focus that allows everyone and everything to revolve around him.

For a film of this length, which does seem to have challenged almost everybody and not just people like me with the concentration span of a red pepper, I found it remarkable just how it seemed to fly by. It's far from packed with incident or set piece scenes, and it is one you can take your eye off for a few seconds and not miss the thread of what's going on. Scorsese just seems to wring *something* out of everything here.

There are great little performances dotted around that support the main players so well. Stand-up comic Sebastian Maniscalco's Crazy Joe Gallo is a real scene stealer, while Louis Cancelmi, as bespectacled killer Sally Bugs, also shares the funniest scene in this as he argues with the always welcome Jesse Plemons about the identity of a fish. If there's only one scene here that doesn't seem like it quite fits into everything else, it's this one. Yet it was also absolutely hilarious, so even Scorsese's misstep works out really well.

There is bound to be one or two in a 200+ minute film (the otherwise superb Stephen Graham's accent possibly being another), but I was knocked over by how great this was. I really wasn't looking forward to it until the reviews started coming in but you can take it as read that if a film this long can score the full marks from me, it's really rather good. Not to mention a reminder that De Niro and Pacino never lost it - it's the films they've been in that lost it for them.