Martin Scorsese’s films about the rise and fall of bad men always came off as all-encompassing epics. Be it the gangster’s descent into violence with Goodfellas or the cocky financial choices in The Wolf of Wall Street, his pictures always take care to showcase how the minds of the immoral functioned and crumbled. The Irishman takes a look at the grander scope and argues that even those who live past their crumbling empire are broken. This commitment to the larger scope not only makes the film worthy of its lengthy runtime but being one of Scorsese’s strongest pictures to date.
He Paints Houses
Based on the life of Frank Sheeran, Robert De Niro plays the role of the prolific figure. He started off a transporter of meat and ended up in a retirement home. In between that frame of time, he became known as an enforcer for the mafia. Originally discovered by Russel Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Frank soon learns how to move up into the world. He pleases the mob by initially stealing his meat shipments and supplying it to powerful players. Lawyer Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano) gets Frank off the hook and work continues for the likes of Russel and Joe Gallo (Bobby Cannavale).
Soon, Frank comes into contact with the union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). “I heard you paint houses,” says Jimmy during their initial meeting over the phone, referring to his executions. Frank proves to be a creative figure for the business when it comes to knocking off competition and disposing of problems. He’s just what Hoffa needs as he enters into combatting the Kennedy family when they butt heads over corruption.
Classic Scorsese Style
A lot of the familiar hallmarks of Scorsese’s style is present and at its strongest in this picture. One lingering element of any rise-and-fall picture is frequent glimpses of children, always showcasing how hard the crimes of the adults affect the lives of their kids. This has always been a subtle approach in the likes of the Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street but it’s most prominent in this picture. Frank’s daughter Peggy slowly learns the extent of what her dad is doing. She watches him stomp on the hand of a grocer that shoves her once. Later, she’ll read the papers of murders in the street. She silently looks at her father, knowing the truth he will never tell her.
The films just around quite a bit in time and always evokes just enough of the era. Frank narrates the picture in his older age, beautifully painting the scene. He speaks of the social and political atmosphere of the era, as well as the results of such actions. There are a few details he glazes over but some of the blanks are filled in by some subtitles. We’re given a full picture by the citation of smaller pawns in this game. For a few seconds on each, we learn who they are and how they died. It’s a brilliant touch that keeps a constant reminder of how very few make it out of this business alive.
A Long and Violent Road
As the picture proceeds, I was certainly amazed by the assembly that Scorsese weaves of gangster pictures so well. But what struck me most was the final act of the film. It’s that extra hour of the film where it would seem that everything is over. The reign of Hoffa and Sheeran had ended. But we stick with Sheeran and watch as he lives out the rest of the days, keeping his mouth shut as his body weakens.
Frank becomes more obsessed with facing the end of his life in a manner as contemplative as his life of crime. He stumbles around his thoughts and harps on what life means to him after having come so far. What does he have to show for it? Some photos of his families and people he knew. He showcases to the nurse how he knew Jimmy Hoffa. She doesn’t know who Hoffa is. He was before her time, despite Frank once referring to Hoffa as being bigger than The Beatles. Frank is a mere relic as well, knowing full well little lasts forever.
Despite a wee bit of the uncanny valley in trying to create a younger De Niro and Pesci, The Irishman is one of Scorsese’s best works and a testament to his filmmaking. It takes great care to paint Sheeran in a manner both vicious and tragic, harping on the innermost thoughts behind his descent into violence and dirty deals. While pushing a lot of the familiar Scorsese-isms, there’s a grand sense of scale in the scope. It’s this fascination with the American dream painted in the blood and corruption that has remained the strongest card in the director’s deck. And it’s still effective.
A sprawling story of great power in showcasing how the long road of criminality ends with bitter loneliness.
- Amazing performances from an aged cast
- Strong pacing and editing
- Deeply contemplative
- Some uncanny valley CGI