Todd Russell’s review published on Letterboxd:
Martin Scorsese has been trying to get this movie about mobster Frank Sheeran made for years. It's based on the 2004 book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt. Haven't read the book so this review and rating doesn't consider the strengths/weaknesses of the adaptation (although will admit I want to read the book now).
Video Review - just watched reaction (no spoilers)
Only Netflix would pony up the $160 million budget to make this movie. The overpriced de-aging technology is being touted as one reason for making the movies like this so expensive.
(Incidental sidenote again with no bearing on the rating/review: these are movies, what's wrong with using lookalike actors like they used to do? Sure they might not be as good as the original actors, but this seems like a convenient excuse not to pay actors)
It starts out with a long sprawling shot of an elderly Frank Sheeran in an old folk's home. Similar to how Casino was setup narratively, Sheeran now becomes our primary narrator. And from a storytelling perspective this means we know he isn't killed in any of the story. That removes a lot of potential dramatic tension, but yes does setup a knowledgeable narrator to dump a ton of exposition. There are boatloads of exposition in this movie, so we need some sort of narrator to understand the motivations of the principal characters.
Why do we need to know the narrator is Frank Sheeran right away? We could have an omnipresent narrator (the author, presumably) in third person, although it's weaker than first person. Anyway, this is a bit of a signature style for Scorsese that has worked with some of his other films, so why change? I get it. Just reduces the fear for the main character for the viewer.
The acting, as expected, is brilliant. Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, I mean, these guys are masters of the craft. They could make reading a grocery list compelling, which makes the run time palatable.
Jimmy Hoffa is the primary focus for Sheeran. He ultimately becomes the heavy for and a close friend of Hoffa. I was hoping to gain closure to the great unknown question, "What happened to Jimmy Hoffa?" Is Sheeran's story the truth? I'll leave that to others to decide on their own. Do I believe?
On one hand, how can we accept the word of a professional criminal? Although the way the story unfolds here, Sheeran's story seems credible.
Overall, this movie isn't as awesome as Casino, the last time this team got together. I explained in greater detail on my blog my biggest criticisms, because I want to keep this spoiler free, but in general, the first two acts didn't do it for me. The last act, however, not only redeems but elevates from being a 2-3 star rating for me to my final rating.
If you can endure the first two-thirds of the movie, the final third pays off very well. This is bound to happen when you put brilliant professionals in the same space, even with a bloated script to work from. Recommended.