The internet was flooded with rave reviews after The Irishman was released on Netflix on November 15th, 2019 after a short stint in very limited theatres around the world. There was so much anticipation built up around Martin Scorsese‘s new epic that a whopping 26 million Netflix accounts watched The Irishman within the first week of its release. It had so much praise coming from respected critics – and the nominations from international festivals and awards kept pouring in – that it was a tough one to ignore, even for people who don’t consider themselves Scorsese fans.
The Irishman is a Scorsese film through and through. All the elements that make his films great are present, including Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (Goodfellas, Casino, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America) and a runtime of over 2 hours and 30 mins (The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, The Wolf of Wall Street). Yes, The Irishman is long. Yes, it’s one-minute shy of 3 hours and 30 mins. Why that is the main discussion point when people bring up negative aspects of this movie is honestly baffling. Martin Scorsese makes long movies; this should be no surprise to anyone. Is every minute of this movie necessary? Absolutely. That’s all that should really matter in the end.
Martin Scorsese’s own words are the best ones to describe what the film is really about:
“…It’s certainly more about looking back, a retrospective, so to speak, of man’s life, and the choices that he’s had to make.”
The film flips back and forth between an aging Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a war veteran and former hitman for the mob, and his younger self (Robert De Niro + excessive CGI)– taking us from the 50s to the late 70s. Present day Sheeran is reflective and matter-of-fact about his past. He was introduced to the mob through his truck-driving days as a meat deliverer and quickly proved to be a loyal subject and effective killer – taking out anyone he was told to, no questions asked. At one point he is “assigned’ to none other than Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), eventually becoming a trusted friend and confidant to the famous American union leader. Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sheeran grow close over their years working together, even Sheeran’s closed-off daughter (Anna Paquin) shares a special bond with him. When Hoffa finds himself in a tough position with the powers that be when he becomes a little too outspoken, Sheeran is the voice of reason…that is until Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975.
People have been itching to see more of Hollywood legends Pacino and De Niro in the same film together since they both appeared (although not in the same timeline) in The Godfather Part II in 1974. The pair very briefly appeared together in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), which only made people want it to happen more. The Irishman is what we have been waiting decades for (we can just pretend that Righteous Kill never happened in 2008).
Scorsese, De Niro, and Pacino are the big names bringing in the viewers, but most people who see it can agree that the one who shines the most in The Irishman is Joe Pesci. He has never been better and he has never been so…calm. Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, the head of the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family, and the one who Sheeran answers to. Even though he is the head of a crime family, Russell is just so damn likeable – someone who exudes loyalty and respect, and gets it in return. Both Pesci and Pacino are nominated for Best Supporting Actor – Drama at the 77th Golden Globes.
The acting is phenomenal, the subject matter is interesting, the characters are intriguing and so well developed – the entire thing is nothing short of a masterpiece. Even so, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The length as well as the pace will be a bit too long and too slow for some viewers. It’s comes across as a much more mature film than Goodfellas or Casino and if you’re in a certain age bracket (65+), it might even hit you a little harder as you watch the aging actors come to terms with their past decisions. Like most Scorsese movies, it’s not a happy film, it won’t leave you giddy or even smiling. It’s heavy, as violence and betrayal often is.
It’s actually quite sad that many people didn’t get to see this epic mob movie in theatres – the way Scorsese would have wanted it to be seen. Because it was financed by Netflix, the theatrical window was too short and the only theatres playing the movie were the small, independent ones. Plus, there’s some other power struggle going on between studios, big chain theatres, and streaming services. It’s unfortunate that we miss out on seeing movies the way they were intended to be seen because of money and power.
“I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters…Would I like the picture to play on more big screens for longer periods of time? Of course I would. But no matter whom you make your movie with, the fact is that the screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures.” – Martin Scorsese (New York Times article)
It’s a crappy deal for visionary filmmakers like Scorsese, but without Netflix, The Irishman never would have been made. So in the words of Russell Bufalino…
So boot up your Netflix, find 3.5 hours of quiet time, and get it done.
This guy got a lot of flak online, but for those who have too many obligations in order to spend 3.5 hours watching a movie, this is a good option to turn this long film into a mini-series.
Check out this amazing Rotten Tomatoes score (critics and audiences finally agree!):
Watch the official trailer here: