Movie review: The Irishman
The Irishman had a recipe for disaster.
Lead actors who have been criticised for their recent less-than-iconic roles.
The use of de-ageing technology trying/hoping to take decades off a group of over-70s.
And then there's the length. Three-and-a-half hours sounds indulgent and lacking in edit control. Even with the ability to pause for bladder relief, it is imposing.
Push past the doubts. The Irishman is magnificent.
It is a third act to the mobster recollections of Goodfellas and Casino, if only in director Martin Scorsese's recurring theme that the 70s ruined everything for mob life.
A key difference is the muted tone. There is little flash on display.
Even the violence is dispensed with an almost casual nature, making the simplicity of murder even more shocking.
A man will walk up to another on the street, pull his hand out of his pocket, there's a pop, and he keeps on walking as the other man falls to the ground.
The Irishman is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Early on, we're introduced to exactly what "painting houses" is a euphemism for.
It has to be said that the de-ageing effects can do only so much, so the ages the characters are meant to be ends up being varying stages of middle age. The bigger draw-back is that the characters walk and stand makes it clear these are much older men. But even so, this does not get in the way of the acting.
Robert De Niro gives one of his best performances as Frank Sheeran, rising through the ranks of the unions and the mob. And with that progress, we see him lose more of himself as his indifference to killing makes him a valuable asset.
While De Niro is in top form, the absolute standout is Joe Pesci, as high-ranking mob boss Russell Bufalino.
In previous Scorsese films, Pesci specialised in hotheads and hair triggers. Here, he is a gentleman all the way, with barely a raised word. And that geniality makes him all the more sinister and closer to the devil, as he guides and uses Frank.
And when he plays a much older, frailty-stricken Russell, it's hard to not be moved.
The Irishman sees everyone bringing their A game. The way the cast interacts is like music. Each seasoned player riffing off the other but never grandstanding. It is an acting masterclass.
And even with a role in which she has barely two words to say, Anna Paquin has a huge impact as Frank's daughter Peggy.
UK actor Stephen Graham impresses as a hotheaded mob leader continually at odds with superstar union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Aside from the story of Frank and Hoffa, it is also about ageing and the fleeting nature of relevance.
Throughout the film, captions come up on characters describing the brutal way they were killed. This version of the high life came at a cost.
The power of a film like this is that despite all the atrocities committed by Frank, you still feel for his regret.
Is this the finale for the De Niro-Scorsese relationship? The Irishman makes you hope for at least one more reunion.
FILM: The Irishman
STARRING: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
THE SKINNY: A former union boss and mob hitman (De Niro) recalls his rise through the ranks, his involvement with the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) and its consequences.