Movie Review ~ The Irishman


The Facts
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Synopsis: In the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran gets involved with Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa — a powerful Teamster tied to organized crime.

Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Bobby Cannavale, Jack Huston, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rated: R

Running Length: 210 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: In 2018, Netflix finally made it into the reputable big-time with Roma, the much-appreciated autobiographical film from Alfonso Cuarón that it debuted on its streaming service just weeks after giving it a small theatrical run to qualify for the Oscars.  Nominated for 10 Academy Awards and very nearly counting Best Picture among the three trophies it took home on Oscar night, it was a sign that Netflix as a fully-fledged movie producer wasn’t a flash in the pan occurrence.  Of course, by the time Roma was topping many critics best of the year awards, Netflix already had a contender for the Best Picture of 2019 with The Irishman, their much-anticipated collaboration with Martin Scorsese.

If it seems like we’ve been talking about The Irishman for over a year, you aren’t that far off the mark.  Though making a movie with similar themes had long been on Scorsese’s dream project list, it wasn’t until Charles Brandt’s 2004 novel I Heard You Paint Houses was published that the framework of the production would start to solidify.  Tapping Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to write the script and securing a reunion with his long-time collaborator/star Robert De Niro, the hefty price tag of the movie became a cause of concern for most of the established studios even though Scorsese was a much-revered Hollywood icon.  That’s when Netflix came into the mix and put up the money to give Scorsese carte blanche to make the movie he wanted to make, how he wanted to make it.

Though, Scorsese works fast, the overall production took its time. Even after filming was complete, a sizable portion of the budget and the final completion period was devoted to the special effects that would “de-age” stars De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (among others) but Netflix was so confident in their prospects they ran an ad for the movie during the Oscar telecast.  On paper, the Oscar winning roster in front of and behind the camera seemed like a slam dunk that would be hard to beat. Now, everyone wanted to know all these months later…would this be Scorsese’s masterpiece after the cool reception of 2016’s Silence and 2013’s successful but gratuitous The Wolf of Wall Street?

I have to tell you, I was worried about seeing The Irishman and not because I wasn’t confident that Scorsese would use his resources and cast like the wise filmmaker he has shown himself to be.  No, it was that 210-minute running time (that’s nearly 3.5 hours if you don’t do math) that had me quaking in my boots.  Though I was able to see the also-lengthy Roma in theaters where I could watch it uninterrupted, I’d have to see The Irishman outside of its theatrical presentation.  I doubt this is where Scorsese would have wanted me to see it, but I figured it was an interesting experiment that would test my focus as well as get an idea of how most viewers would see this.

Fear of focus was unfounded, though, because Scorsese has given audiences a highly engaging film that takes place over several decades but doesn’t feel as long as it is.  Yes, you may have read the first 2/3 of the movie are a tad meandering but the final act rewards those who have been patient and that’s not completely unfounded.  Still, this is a movie dependent on building personal connection to the players and watching the way they move in their respective circles.  It will definitely be a turn-off to those unprepared for the commitment and maybe they’d be better off watching the movie in segments, but I think the richer experience is letting Scorsese’s crime drama unfold at its intended pace even though it could have been slightly shorter – and this is coming from a critic routinely wishing movies were more expedient.

Bookended by a voice-over narration from Frank Sheeran (De Niro, Joy) and scenes showing his later life, the majority of The Irishman is told in flashback snippets while Sheeran and Russell Bufalino (Pesci, Home Alone) travel with their wives to a wedding of the daughter of Russell’s cousin Bill (Ray Romano, The Big Sick).  We see a younger Sheeran (a de-aged De Niro…more on that later) go from being a Philadelphia truck driver to a trusted hitman for a top crime family and the effect it has on his own conscience as time moves on.  Sheeran’s relationship as a bodyguard for union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood) goes from being transactional to an actual friendship and Hoffa becomes a familiar face in the home of Sheeran and his family.

When Hoffa’s actions start to become divisive within the local teamsters and eventually the mob family he’s been kept secure by, it sets off a chain of events that will come back to haunt all involved.  Hoffa has secrets on some dangerous people who don’t like to be intimidated by the rabble-rouser…and Hoffa’s infamous disappearance in 1975 should key you into the lengths they’d go to keep things under wraps.  How Sheeran figures into Hoffa’s vanishing is where that key final hour of The Irishman comes in and by then we’ve been immersed in this world for so long that while the developments create tension they shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Also serving as a producer of the film, De Niro’s performance is such a welcome change of pace for the veteran actor.  Though he’s lately been appearing in a questionable number of throwaway pictures, The Irishman helps reestablish why he’s one of the most respected people working in the business.  He gives Sheeran a quiet reserve with a talent for remaining emotionless before, during, and after being involved with heinous crimes…yet you can tell he’s set to a low simmer on high alert at all times.  This isn’t the typical De Niro we’ve come to expect and his reteaming with Scorsese (Cape Fear) is surely to thank for that.

It was big news when De Niro and Pacino teamed up for Heat in 1995 and less of an event for their stink-bomb Righteous Kill in 2008 yet here when they share the screen it’s like the first time we’ve seen these two performers spar.  Sheeran and Hoffa had an obvious complicated relationship, with Sheeran unfortunately caught in the middle of his loyalty to his employers and his friendship with Hoffa.  For his part, Pacino turns off his overzealous acting and gives Hoffa some dimension.  There’s little of the wild-eyed Pacino that’s often on display and more of the determined pit bull Hoffa was known to be.  By easing off the gas a bit, Pacino gets a bit of a redemption after appearing in a string of movies that are well beneath his experience level.

Supposedly it took Scorsese asking Pesci fifty times to play Russell Bufalino before the notoriously reclusive actor agreed to come out of semi-retirement for his old pal.  However much prodding it took, it was absolutely worth whatever headaches he caused Scorsese in getting him signed.  The Oscar winner was well-missed and his appearance here is reason enough to watch the film in one sitting.  Though it may seem as if it’s a role Pesci can do in his sleep by this point, there’s some interesting nuances he brings that further helps to define Bufalino and not just make him a variation of the characters he’s played in Goodfellas or Casino.  I was transfixed every time Pesci was onscreen and when you add De Niro and Pacino in as scene partners you sort of can’t believe the good fortune you have to watch these three at work.

So then we get to the whole “de-aging” process that took up so much time and I have to say that it’s largely a non-intrusive device.  Had Scorsese opted for casting different actors when the characters were younger, I’m not sure if they film would have been as successful in carrying over these dynamics to their older counterparts.  On the other hand, we all know what De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci looked like over the decades they’ve been in the business and the way they’ve been “youthfulized” doesn’t quite convince in every frame.  It’s good but not great, and very likely worth the money it cost in the long run since you have consistency in actors throughout the time periods.

There are many film fans out there that think Scorsese’s 1990 Goodfellas is the be-all, end-all as far as mafia movies go and it’s hard to make an argument against the brilliance of storytelling in that feature.  The Irishman is successful in many of the same ways but doesn’t quite get to that Goodfellas level due to its tendency to overreach and linger when it should be continuing onward.  Even though the film is highly watchable I can’t help but think some slight trimming could have made it an even better lasting film.  Those first two hours perhaps contain scenes that don’t belong, even if they ultimately provide more insight into Sheeran’s rise to his position.

Aside from the extended length, there have been complaints over the lack of female characters and it’s an interesting conversation to have.  The women that are featured in the film are often without much dimension and, aside from a sinister scene involving Russell’s wife, fail to have any major impact on the overall story.  The most successful actress is actually the one that most people are so up in arms about.  As Sheeran’s daughter, the amount of lines Anna Paquin (The Good Dinosaur) has could be counted on two hands but her silence is almost the point Scorsese was trying to make.  Her father has proved untrustworthy for so long, her lack of communication with him speaks to the depth of her resolve to not reward him with her love or kindness.

Now that The Irishman is out in the world and people can choose the way they want to watch it, it will be interesting to see how the movie ages over the years.  Going into Oscar nominations in a few weeks, it’s expected to come out with the most nominations and I’m not counting on that very real possibility.  For once, the effort is worth the accolades and the good notices are supported by an excellent film.  And Pesci…for goodness sake, how can you be unhappy when Pesci is onscreen?

The Silver Bullet ~ The Irishman



Synopsis
: A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.

Release Date:  September 27, 2019

Thoughts: The pending release of any Martin Scorsese film will always create buzz but there’s a special kind of hum that’s been generated from his next film, The Irishman.  It’s not just that it marks another high profile director turning to a streaming service (Netflix) to finance and release their film but it also re-teams Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) with two of his greatest collaborators.  Seeing Robert DeNiro (Cape Fear) playing another hard-boiled gangster is all well and good but boy, it’s already a huge thrill to see Joe Pesci coaxed out of a semi-retirement in this first teaser trailer.  Add in Al Pacino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) and you have a triple-crown of heavy hitters in mafia films helmed by the godfather of the genre.  Though it’s too early to call this one a slam dunk, Netflix is likely gathering all their four-leaf clovers and betting on The Irishman to get them back into the Best Picture race they so narrowly lost last year.  

The Silver Bullet ~ Silence (2016)

silence

Synopsis: In the 17th century two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and to spread the gospel of Christianity.

Release Date: December 23, 2016

Thoughts: Much like Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013, Silence is a late breaking entry into the serious awards season discussion.  Buzzed about for months (years if you count its overall development time) but as yet unseen, you never can really tell where a Scorsese flick will land in the eyes of critics but Silence looks compelling from the outset. Tackling the not super blockbuster themes of Christian oppression in a foreign land, it certainly has the visual hallmarks of a Scorsese film…including a lengthy run time.  Stars Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Adam Driver (Midnight Special) are stars continuing to rise and if you believe early odds, Liam Neeson (Non-Stop) could net a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work.  We’ve got a few more weeks until Silence roars into view but count on this one to factor heavily in Oscar talk as the year concludes.  

Movie Review ~ The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Pj Byrne, Kenneth Choi

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rated: R

Running Length: 179 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:

Review:  After making a brief detour to PG-rated family friendly fare with 2011’s wondrous Hugo, director Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear) makes up for lost time with the ribald and very R rated The Wolf of Wall Street, a film arriving with much buzz due to the pedigree of the director, its starry cast, and its butt-numbing running length that will test the bladders of even the strongest leg crossers amongst us.

When asked by a few friends what my initial opinion of the film was, I responded with “it’s an entertaining 135 minute movie that unfortunately runs for 179 minutes” and that’s probably the most succinct review I can offer for Scorsese’s excessive and excessively long opus looking into the boom of Wall Street in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

Let’s start with the good, shall we?  That would be Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic), an actor I usually have little patience for due to his penchant for playing variations on the same role.  With 2012’s Django Unchained, however, the actor showed some sinister dexterity that was appealing to watch and which should have netted him an Oscar nomination.  Though earlier in 2013 audiences and critics were divided on Baz Lurhman’s 3D take on The Great Gatsby, it was generally agreed that DiCaprio’s vulnerability in the leading role was one of its saving graces.

So it’s nice to see that DiCaprio once again shines as Jordan Belfort, an upstart stockbroker that easily is sucked into the dizzying world of money and all the trappings (booze, drugs, women, etc) that seemed to go with it.  The layers DiCaprio adds in addition to Terrence Winter’s hefty dialogue are admirable and more than a few times I found myself getting lost in the film thanks to the conviction and brio DiCaprio brings to the role.

Also making a good showing is Margot Robbie (About Time) as Belfort’s second wife that isn’t much of a pushover.  It’s nice to see a female character in a Scorcese film portrayed as more than just a wife or sex object (though Robbie is one of many, many, many actresses in the film that is seen fully nude) and there’s a dynamic chemistry between Robbie and DiCaprio that gives the film some extra oomph when needed.

In addition to DiCaprio and Robbie I also enjoyed some comically dry turns from Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud), Kyle Chandler (The Spectacular Now), Rob Reiner (The Mystery of Belle Isle), and Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist)…actors that Scorsese uses to his advantage whenever the movie needs a boost of energy (which happens quite often in the bloated second and third acts).

I’m leaving Jonah Hill (This Is the End) for last because now we’re into the elements of the movie that didn’t work for me.  Hill’s puffy stockbroker colleague of DiCaprio is nearly governed by his costume choices (day-glo sweaters, loafers, large glasses), his impeccably white teeth that give him a beaver-esque quality, and a nasally New Yah-k whine that started to give me stroke symptoms as the move droned on.  The early word was that Hill was set for another Supporting Actor Oscar nomination (after 2011’s Moneyball) and if that’s the case then I’m clearly missing something because I found Hill to be drastically out of place, however believable his connection to DiCaprio’s character was.

Then there’s the length…good lord the film is overlong.  Even the casual moviegoer would have been able to edit at least 30-35 minutes off of this monster and I’d challenge anyone to sit through the film twice and not find the exact moments where Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker should have excised large passages of dialogue and story that had no bearing on what happens later in the film.  I don’t mind long movies…but they have to have a reason for being long and there’s absolutely no rationale for the movie to lumber on as long as it does.  And keep in mind the film was already edited down from an even longer cut…a task that moved the original release date from its original Thanksgiving release schedule.

Scorsese is truly one of the most legendary filmmakers out there and while The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t a turkey, it’s not one of the director’s best thanks to a curious lack/slack of pace.  I’ve always found Scorsese’s films to be taut experiences, no matter the genre but I get the feeling Scorsese couldn’t come to a decision on what he was trying to reveal in the life story of Belfort so he simply left in most everything that he captured during filming.  Removing 30 minutes would have made Scorsese’s film truly howl and been an even better showcase for DiCaprio’s well thought out performance.  It also would have monumentally reduced Hill’s role which is what the film very much needed…a sacrificial lamb for this Wolf to be a winner.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolf of Wall Street

The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-2013-Movie-Poster

Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Release Date:  November 15, 2013

Thoughts: I know I should be more excited about this one and perhaps I’ve just seen this overly ADD trailer one too many times but I find myself exhausted by the time the preview ends.  There’s no doubt that DiCaprio is Scorsese’s modern day De Niro and the two have collaborated on several strong films (The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, The Departed).  This adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s raucous memoir is said to be Scorsese’s most explicit movie to date, probably because it’s so very easy to go all out when you’re documenting the lives lived in excess during the 80’s.  DiCaprio has had two good showings in his latest films (Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby) and unless the zany supporting work of Jonah Hill (This is the End) or Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, Mud), overshadow him he could be looking at another Oscar nomination.