The Irishman (2019)
Titled on-screen as: I Heard You Paint Houses
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt
Screenplay by Steven Zaillian
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin
Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (DeNiro) recounts his life of crime and his involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
Director Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was released as one of the most highly anticipated films of 2019. The story is based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses, by Charles Brandt. Oscar-winning writer Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) wrote the screenplay. The incredible cast includes Robert DeNiro (The Mission), Al Pacino (The Insider), and Joe Pesci (Home Alone). Also featured are Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction), Ray Romano (The Big Sick), Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine), and Anna Paquin (X-Men: Days of Future Past).
This might be easily categorized as a mob movie, but it’s something more than that. In many ways this film can be viewed as a film about an old man telling stories from his younger days. This has been done before to great effect. (Think about Forrest Gump or Yankee Doodle Dandy.) This time the film takes that trope and brings it into the world of the mob and organized labor. Steven Zaillian did an excellent job building a story that moves back and forth between periods of time with relative ease.
The writing also succeeds at stitching together events over a long period of time, allowing for things to remain connected. The dialogue throughout the movie is wonderfully written. There are no big monologues, just great lines for great actors to work with. The script also helps to build realistic relationships between the characters that adapt over time. The violence in this one is intense and often unexpected, helping to keep the tension just beneath the surface. In the end this is a unique drama that visits a section of history often overlooked. The truth of the tale can be debated by historians, but it’s still an undeniably great story.
It’s not very often that you see a film with such an incredible cast. This time Martin Scorsese called in all of his go-to stars to make this into something special. Robert DeNiro leads the way, playing the title role in the film. His performance is incredible, and he does a good job adapting to the different ages he was asked to embody. His performance is at its best when he is forced to confront the conflict within his character. Al Pacino also does incredible work bringing the legendary Teamster figure Jimmy Hoffa to life. His performance fits into his typical boisterous style, but he also knows the right moments to hold back and reflect.
After a semi-retirement from acting Joe Pesci was back in front of the camera in a great role. Pesci seemed to understand the deep conflict within his character, and he brings that out from the very beginning. He also brought back that wit and intensity that fans grew to love from his earlier work. Harvey Keitel also does solid work with his role in this one. His performance is generally reserved, and he does a good job bringing a sense of power to his character. Some of the other great actors to join this film include Bobby Cannavle, Ray Romano, and Anna Paquin. Their performances all add something special to the movie. It would truly be impossible to highlight just how many other actors in this one did solid work. The chemistry was there in all the right moments, and the actors did a great job working with the technology that altered their ages.
The look of this film is a great combination of a director’s vision and a skilled cinematographer’s skill. Rodrigo Preito (The Wolf of Wall Street) did an excellent job capturing the mood of the film while keeping the essence of the eras intact. The film also has the benefit of perfect locations, wonderfully designed sets, and great costuming.
The technology needed to make this one work is something special. Visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman came from Industrial Light and Magic and knocked this one out of the park. In 2015 he worked with DeNiro and Scorsese to recreate a scene from Goodfellas to see if the de-aging would work. The results of their work and preparation are evident throughout the movie. The age of the actors is adjusted without creating any distraction. Hair and makeup artists also added great touches to the final product. The crew even employed a posture coach to make sure that the older stars would be able to carry themselves as younger men.
It’s interesting to see Scorsese slow his pace and take time to tell the story. At close to three and a half hours it might sound like this is a long haul. Fortunately, there isn’t an unnecessary moment within the film. This one trims the fat, but still takes a huge bite out of a massive story. Fans of Scorsese need to see this one. It’s unfortunate that the theatrical release is so small, since this deserves the big screen. I would also encourage fans of the stars to check this one out. In many ways this film feels like Scorsese’s farewell to mob movies. It will be interesting to see if someone else picks up the torch. It will be more interesting to see if someone picks up the torch and finds this level of success. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.