The Irishman - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of ‘The Irishman’. It was directed by Martin Scorsese; it starred Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Romano; and it lasts for 209-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with a roundtable discussion between Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci, a documentary about the making of the film, a theatrical trailer, three featurettes, as well as two pre-recorded interviews: One with Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, circa 1999, and the other with the Teamsters trade-union leader, Jimmy Hoffa, circa 1963.

The Irishman [The Criterion Collection]

To the outside world, Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) is nothing more than a crooked mob boss who’s in charge of an organized crime family. But as far as I’m concerned? No! He’s more than that, an awful lot more, because he’s also a very kind man who managed to change my entire life! Me, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), otherwise known as, ‘The Irishman’.

Well, when we first met, Russell was good enough to help me repair my truck after it broke down by the side of the highway. And then, years later, he helped me once again. This time, though, by elevating my career from a street-level hood all the way up to a secret assassin.

Or to be more specific about it, a hitman. A hitman who was eventually dragged into an intricate battle between the head of the Teamsters union, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and a crime boss named Anthony Provenzano (Stephen Graham), ‘Tony Pro’ to his friends, which resulted in death, incarceration, and an eventful rebirth five years later.

Wait a minute! Was it five years? Or was it four? Either way, things happened, plenty of things, which is most probably why what next transpires goes boom, bang, pow, when a mission of mercy suddenly turns into a dawdling decline. As a gang of gangsters gradually die - a team of Teamsters can’t help but cry - a family of thieves perpetually sigh - and at the end of the day, please remember, forgiveness is only rewarded to those who refuse to lie. 

I know this may sound like a rather silly thing to say, but in many ways, ‘The Irishman’ reminds me of a sandwich. Not a normal sandwich, though. But rather, a multi-layered sandwich, made with a variety of different ingredients.

The Irishman - Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci)
Well, for a start, there’s the bread, the outer layer, which in this case, consisted of a story set in the recent past that features an old man reminiscing about his life as a young hood, ranging from what he did, when he did it, to who he did it to. Then, we have the second layer, layer two, which kind of acts as a ‘mutual lubricant’, like butter or margarine, that bonds the old man’s story to the overall tale he’s trying to tell, mainly, via a driving sequence set before his decline where he, his wife, and their two friends, drive across the country for a ‘secret mission’ that sparks his eventful downfall. And finally, we have - yes, you guessed it - the actual ingredients inserted inside our cinematic sandwich, such as the lettuce, the tomatoes, the ham, the pickle, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, all of which are easily epitomized by the numerous stories, decades, and events that flow out of the old man’s mouth.

Now, like all tasty snacks, ‘The Irishman’ may not be everybody's cup of tea! After all, some people purposely refrain from digesting slow-cooked lamb (a crime-riddled narrative), crispy lettuce (that’s large in scope), and a type of bread that’s soft on the inside but crusty on the outside (meaning, it has a rough exterior but a soft heart). In the same breath, though, some do. Some people actually prefer to gradually consume a large variety of different tastes and textures, but only if the overall experience is well worth the price of admission. 

The Irishman - Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro)
Someone like me, for instance. Someone who’s a big fan of Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci, Pacino, and the crime genre in general, and always gets a kick out of a timely tale that’s one-half fable and one-half fashionable. Well, on the one hand, this film occasionally fabricates real-life events for the sake of drama (just like most biographical adventures). While, on the other hand, it does manage to tell a stylish story that eventually focuses on forgiveness. Or to be more specific about it, if it’s possible to forgive someone who has spent most of their life doing bad things

Well, is it? Is it possible to condone the actions of a serial offender? And if it is, why? Why is it possible to forgive a ripened rascal? Is it because of their infirm age? Is it because you can associate with someone who yearns for redemption? Or is it because of something else? Something emotional, perhaps? Which is exactly what I felt after I sat through this three and a half-hour film, full of nostalgia, drama, and pathos, which kind of reminded me of some of the other films also directed by Martin Scorsese. Films like, 'Goodfellas' (which depicted the rise and the fall of a gangster), 'Casino' (which was another gangster biopic, centered on the corruption of the entertainment industry), 'Raging Bull' (which was about one man betraying another), and 'Mean Streets' (which largely focused on a relationship between two troubled souls). 

The Irishman - Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Ray Romano

The Irishman - Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now seems like a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Netflix’ first released this $159 million production at the 'New York Film Festival' on the 27th of September, 2019, and eventually made $8 million at the box office. (2) This biopic was loosely based on a book written by the former homicide prosecutor, Charles Brandt, who interviewed Frank Sheeran about his life as a mafia hitman for the Bufalino crime family. His book's called, ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’, and it was published in 2004. (3) According to Martin Scorsese, he had to ask Joe Pesci over 50 times before he finally agreed to star in this film. (4) And along similar lines, it also took over 9 years before a studio agreed to finance this film, mainly because of the cost of the special effects and the popularity of the subject matter. (5) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘Time Changes Nothing’. (6) The majority of this movie was shot on location throughout the United States of America. In New York, you’ll see St. John the Baptist Church in Yonkers, St. Matthias R.C. Church in Ridgewood, Callahan-Nannini Shale in Blooming Grove, Phelps Way in Mt. Pleasant, Maspeth in Queens, Jessie's Bagels in Sloatsburg, Motor Repairs and Weir's Ice Cream in Washingtonville, as well as Suffern, Tuxedo, the Rodeway Inn, and White Plains. Whereas in New Jersey, you’ll see the Northern State Prison in Newark, the East Jersey State Prison in Avenel, and Spruce Street and Market Street in Paterson. There were also a couple of scenes shot in Florida, mainly in and around Miami and The Palm Beach Kennel Club. (7) To date, this is currently the longest full-length film directed by Martin Scorsese. Not a documentary or TV show, film, as it’s three and a half-hours long. It’s also the film that took him the longest to make, 106 days, to be exact, which he started on the 29th of August, 2017, and ended on the 5th of March, 2018.

The Irishman - Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino)

For a change of pace, I would now like to conclude my review of ‘The Irishman’ by doing something different, something new, which is to refrain from talking about the normal things associated with a Martin Scorsese film, things like the silky smooth camera work (check), the amazing acting (check), and the warm, voice-over narration, that’s constantly complemented by a selection of timely tunes (and mate), because what I want to do instead, is talk about all of the new elements Mr. Scorsese has brought to his cinematic table. Namely, his use of de-aging effects, the way he captioned some of the characters, as well as his depiction of an elderly gangster.

The Irishman - Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro)
Well, to begin, let me start off by telling you what I thought about the de-aging effects. Or as I like to call them, the Play-Doh effects, as occasionally they made some of the actors look all 'doughy' in the face, just like a plasticine doll or a highly detailed waxwork. Not always, though, because in large part, most of these ‘computerized alterations’ were nicely integrated into each scene and didn’t profusely stand out from the crowd. 

Conversely, all of the captions inserted into this film did stand out from the crowd. In a good way, mind you, because they highlighted a few facts associated with most of the main characters, but only the first time they appeared on screen. Facts, that told us (the audience), who they were (bad man), how they died (bang-pow-splat), and on what date they actually passed away (amen). Which to some extent, I kind of enjoyed, as all of these captions reinforced that this film was based on real people, real-life events, and real human tragedy.

After all, tragedy, life, and death, are common components consistently connected to a criminal’s career. Otherwise, Martin Scorsese wouldn’t have decided to revisit this genre, again, and again, and again, in order to chronicle their effects on the human condition. This time, though, he’s done something slightly different with his account, something more... personal. Which is to go beyond his usual realm of chronicling a young, gangster’s career, from kid to middle-aged adult, by also showing us what happens after their career has finally ended. Or to be more specific about it, when they eventually reach old age and realize what they have ultimately accomplished. Nothing. Nothing at all, apart from sorrow, pain, and heartache, which helps no one except those people who are waiting in line for the grave. Amen.

Great film. Say no more.


THE IRISHMAN (2019) THE IRISHMAN (2019) Reviewed by David Andrews on November 30, 2020 Rating: 5

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