#REVIEW: “THE IRISHMAN”
Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Martin Scorsese is back with a vengeance. Working from Charles Brandt‘s book on Frank Sheeran, I Heard You Paint Houses and adapted for the screen by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), this master Director has assembled a triumvirate of actors (one was coaxed from semi-retirement) and created a film of such magnitude that it must be seen and savoured. THE IRISHMAN, with its running time of 210 minutes, may be one of filmdom’s greatest gangster movie made by a man who certainly knows his way around gangster movies!
“I heard you paint houses” is Mafia euphemism for a hit man and this true (though highly-disputed) story recounts the life Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and his part in the mysterious disappearance of the Teamsters union boss, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). It’s a hypnotic tale as it also touches on the mob’s financial interests and casinos in Castro’s Cuba, the presidency of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert as Attorney General and the violent wars between Mafia clans. But the Movie starts humbly as we see that Frank, a WWII veteran, is a truck driver who meets Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a crime boss, at a Texaco gas station. Frank doesn’t know who this helpful stranger is, but his inner-self is aware that this might be someone he should know in the future. Frank starts to steal from his suppliers and is selling beef to a small time crook, Skinny Razor (Bobby Cannavale). Skinny introduces Frank to Philadelphia’s new crime lord Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and Russell Bufalino. Russell takes an immediate shine to Frank, who sees him as a mentor. Frank starts by collecting cash for his gangster associates with menacing efficiency, but when a side job is discovered by Bruno and all seems lost, Bufalino intervenes and Frank is forced to carry out his first kill. We also see Frank’s violent streak when he viciously beats a corner grocery clerk for shoving his young daughter while she watches in horror. An hour into THE IRISHMAN, Russell sends Frank to help Jimmy Hoffa eliminate a rival taxi company and a great friendship is formed between these two men. It is also the moment when the Movie goes into overdrive. It is intense in its toxic masculinity, profanity and relentless violence. It is also Scorsese’s funniest movie since Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and After Hours. It is not a Comedy by any stretch of the imagination, but I honestly did not expect my funny bone to be tickled as often as it was.
Much has been written about the $170 million budget needed use new technology to de-age the three leading actors, whose ages in real life range from 72 to 79, allowing them to play the same characters over a span of decades. It is effective and gives many of the performers in THE IRISHMAN gravitas. De Niro may be the lead and his role is the least flashy, yet it is constrained in its intensity. Pacino has toned down the theatrics just a bit but he is invigorating and electrifying. But it is Joe Pesci who steals the Movie from these two movie icons. It is measured, thoughtful and soft spoken but ruthless when required. I was hypnotized every time Russell Bufalino was on-screen and thrilled to see him back in the movies. I was equally impressed with Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) in a smaller role as a lawyer for the mob. I also enjoyed the kinetic performance from Stephen Graham (Boardwalk Empire) as Anthony “Tony-Pro” Provenzano, especially in his scenes with Pacino.
Whereas THE IRISHMAN is operatic in tone and scope, there sadly are a few flat notes. There is not one female role that truly excites the senses, a surprising fact when taken into account Scorsese’s many successes in the past starring women, both in lead or supporting roles. Many ladies shine briefly in this Film, then are extinguished abruptly. I was also shocked how little the more established names in the Cast (Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin and Jesse Plemons) have criminally little to do and make minimal impact. However I was thrilled that the relentless violence was restrained and less grisly than Scorsese tends to portray on the screen in the past.
I am a notoriously fidgety audience member at the best of times, but THE IRISHMAN had me as still as a church mouse. I was engrossed and mesmerized throughout. THE IRISHMAN is a stunning achievement.
THE IRISHMAN plays at TIFF Bell Lightbox beginning Friday, November 8, 2019.