Review of The Irishman (2019)

Moving picture, 3.5 hours

Seen in 2019.

I can see it’s old men going through the motions of mafia movies as they were made 45 years earlier, with less aestheticized violence. It’s history through the lens of narcissistic conspiracy theories: Here, the mob elected Kennedy (an Irishman by US standards) and the mob killed him. It’s hard-boiled mythology: The WW2 badass kicking butt and shaping US society while the many women in his life have nothing to say about it. The digital effects are mostly OK but De Niro looks awful as a 24-year-old ILM puppet on 35 mm. He frowns his way through the entire movie, his seventh with Pesci and Scorsese (his ninth with Scorsese).

That said, the craftsmanship is good in every other department, especially the set design. It is never boring. Pesci gets the menacing vagueness just right. Pacino gets to do his boil-over routine, but that’s just the cherry on the dessert of a solid three-course meal. It is more important to the quality of the result that Peggy’s unspoken fear, guilt and revulsion gradually come to haunt Sheeran to the grey, painful end of his pointless life. This is the crucial counterpoint to the glamour of mob status, wealth and violence. It’s done well, with just the right weight: Heavy enough to show that mobsters are assholes, yet light enough for realism within the realm of domestic complicity. Compare The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Scorsese’s preceding prestige production, which is 2 hours and 45 minutes of glamour and comedy about equally disgusting people, followed by 10 minutes of comeuppance and trophy-wife contempt.

I did want more Tarantino-style failures, and more than the young Sheeran’s own nervousness to represent the suffering of the victims. Three and a half hours should have room. Still, all in all, it’s a fine traditional mafia movie in its near-dead genre, made the same way Westerns were made at the time.

References here: Killers of the Flower Moon (2023).

moving picture fiction