The Irishman (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci) – Marty Scorsese deserves to be on the Mt. Rushmore of Hollywood. His collaborations with Robert De Niro stand as a testament to the cinematic arts. These two movie greats co-produced the much-heralded Netflix film, The Irishman. Their film boasts an incredible critics’ “Metascore” of 94 percent on imdb, perhaps the highest ever. Who am I to argue? There is no doubt this is a very fine film, but it is not for everyone.
At 3½ hours without an intermission, The Irishman is meant to be watched at home. It could have been shorter. But Scorsese knew he had the unique opportunity of directing for a home-based audience.
It allows him to explore deeply the three main characters of this mob film: De Niro as Frank Sheeran; Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino; and Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa. Scorsese and these three Oscar winners have immersed themselves in mob genre. Goodfellas, Casino, The Godfather, and The Departed are just a few of the award-winning films featuring one or more of these four legends.
All three characters were notorious real people. The movie is told from the perspective of Sheeran, the ultimate blue-collar mob soldier. Bufalino was a true mob kingpin. And Hoffa was the most powerful union boss in history, corrupt as hell but beloved by his fellow Teamsters. Pacino faced the toughest task – portraying a well-known historical figure. In typical Pacino fashion, he plays Hoffa over the top but not as a caricature. Pesci, who continues to easily cross from drama and comedy, was surprisingly subdued. De Niro, of course, carries the film firmly on his shoulders as Sheeran.
As the movie opens, we meet Sheeran, a truck driver who delivers sides of beef. To make extra money for the family he loves, he starts to cut corners, selling portions of his cargo to others, skimming from his clients. One fateful day in rural Pennsylvania, his truck breaks down at an all-too-familiar intersection with a gas station and a Stuckey’s. As he tries to identify the problem, a well-dressed stranger (Bufalino) comes over and quickly diagnoses the problem as a timing chain. Fast forward as Sheeran gets deeper into the mob world and becomes a reliable, quiet Forrest Gump-like presence. He happens upon Bufalino, and an alliance is formed. It is Bufalino who introduces Sheeran to Hoffa and quickly becomes the labor leader’s bodyguard and confidante. Scorsese uses these characters to introduce us to some of the biggest mobsters, lowliest thugs, and politicians of the day. It’s graphic, a touch gratuitous, and deadly serious.
The Irishman is both a fine character study and a vivid period piece. It is a glimpse into a world few people really experienced but which has been memorialized forever in dozens of films. Like war movies, it might be time to move on. If mob movies are not your thing, you can save yourself the 3½ hours. If you hate screen violence, skip it. But if you want to see great acting, perfect direction, and wonderful storytelling, dehydrate yourself and watch The Irishman.