The Reel Review
Director Martin Scorsese’s latest (and longest) crime drama on Netflix and a handful of theaters is (surprise!) the wistful story of aging hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), tracing his life from 1949 to 2000 and his work for crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and famed Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Hoffa’s famed 1975 disappearance. The film is based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 novel I Heard You Paint Houses, in which the late Sheehan says he killed Hoffa, a claim that has been widely disputed despite independent corroboration.
Although the film stars an iconic trio of septuagenarians (De Niro, Pacino and Pesci), and their performances are, as usual, exceptional, the attention grabber of The Irishman is the impressive de-aging computer technology that results in some truly impressive looking flashbacks. (De Niro even gets blue eyes.) The technology, however, does betray itself at times with a few odd looking faces, and even more so when the actors move, creating a strange effect with characters that look 40 but are still moving like they are in their 70s.
The story, directed by the 77-year-old Scorsese with all these aging characters waxing poetic about past betrayals and regrets, understandably has a certain nostalgic charm, considering all these men are themselves in their golden years. And technically, the film is an impressive achievement, with its well done period set design and its incorporation of archival TV footage of major news events. But lumbering along at three and a half hours, the film is, for all but the most diehard Scorsese fans, simply exhausting – too long by at least an hour. Adoring Scorsese fans will relish it, but the rest of us will find it a sweet but somewhat shallow, self indulgent bore.
• At three and a half hours, The Irishman is the longest film director Martin Scorsese has ever directed and the longest mainstream film released in more than two decades.
• Netflix acquired the rights to The Irishman after Paramount Pictures lost confidence in its $159 million budget. Most major theater chains refused to premiere The Irishman because of Netflix’s demand that it be available within 30 days on its streaming service. As a result, it only appeared in a handful of independent theaters.
• This is the seventh film starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, who begrudgingly came out of retirement (Scorsese asked him more than 50 times before he said yes) to appear in this film. Pesci’s last on-screen role was in 2010’s Love Ranch.