BFI London Film Festival: The Irishman

The Irishman
The Irishman
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale and Anna Paquin
Screening at LFF October 13th, 2019

by Alex Plant

Discourse surrounding Martin Scorsese’s latest has largely been focused on the the magical CGI de-aging techniques it’s said to employ, its three-hour-plus runtime and Scorsese’s opinions on what he considers to be cinema. All three of these things are likely to be forgotten as this methodical and meditative masterpiece slowly washes over you, in the type of picture only a master of cinema like Scorsese could pull off in this day and age.

The Irishman is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, which offers up an explanation to the great American mystery of the disappearance of labour union boss Jimmy Hoffa, by way of an account offered up by his friend and confidante Frank Sheeran. We join an elderly Sheeran (De Niro) as he looks back over roughly 50 years of his life and tells the tale of how he came to be associated with organised crime, and how that in turn lead to his close personal dealings with Hoffa.

First thing’s first; this is not the gratuitous and guns-blazing bombast of Goodfellas. That’s a young man’s game. The Irishman is the contemplative story of an old man looking back on his life and feels as much like a reaction to Scorsese and De Niro’s earlier work as much as it does a continuation of it. The decades-spanning nature of this story is recounted wistfully, and it feels like Scorsese and company could have only made this movie at this time in their lives. It’s not all doom and gloom, either. The Irishman is often very funny, but in an incredibly natural and human way, with humour that comes from misunderstandings, rather that “jokes”. This all paints a vivid picture of real people, rather than cartoonish gangsters.

Scorsese is at his reflective best, but this film is all about the actors. Pacino is a powerhouse as Hoffa, bringing his usual fire and flare to the role, but the biggest surprise is the-out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. Far from the sort of shouty and stabby turns he’s known for, Pesci here plays the elder statesman and he’s a revelation. He gives a thoughtful and considered performance as crime kingpin Russell Buffalino, effortlessly commanding respect and reverence. De Niro, as you might expect is magnetic. He portrays so much with so little, such as the occasional stutter. During one of the film’s most powerful scenes he delivers a truly gut-wrenching performance without so much as uttering a single word. The great success of the CGI de-aging is that it never compromises the impact of De Niro’s most devastating weapon: his wonderful, wonderful face.

All involved with The Irishman are operating at the top of their game. It’s a solemn meditation on a life of crime from a master of the genre, featuring some of the best work its three principle actors have ever done.


One Response to “BFI London Film Festival: The Irishman”

  1. […] The Irishman is released in select UK cinemas on November 8th and will be streaming on Netflix from November 27th. […]

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