The Irishman (quick read)

The Irishman arrives on Netflix on the 27th of November, 2019.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It is hard to believe that it was almost twenty-five years ago that Martin Scorsese brought us Casino, starring Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, a movie that many assumed would mark the end of the Pesci – DeNiro partnership born in the 1980 film Raging Bull. Meanwhile, Al Pacino, although having worked with De Niro on The Godfather, never crossed paths with Martin Scorsese over the years, much to everyone’s surprise. The Irishman not only brings Pesci and De Niro back together, but it finally unites Scorsese and Pacino in an outstanding crime/drama that sometimes feels like a swan song for all involved.

The Irishman journies through three decades in the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a real-life union boss and fixer who died in 2003, aged 83. In recounting Sheeran’s story, Scorsese weaves an intricate and sprawling tale based on Charles Brandt’s novel, I Heard You Paint Houses. Here, we are taken from Sheeran’s humble routes as a meat van driver in the 50s to his early forays into low-level crime and eventual partnership with crime boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci) – a partnership that would lead to his eventual employment in a crime ring and union racket and a friendship with Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

The Irishman is set against the changing socio-political landscape of ’60s America, where a young John F. Kennedy has swept into the White House, the Bay of Pigs fiasco sits waiting in the wings and the first rumblings of what would become the Cuban Missile Crisis rumble under the surface of political decision making. It explores the links between the mob and the powerful unions fighting for worker’s rights before moving on to Robert Kennedy’s campaign against organised crime, history-defining assassinations and Watergate. As a result, The Irishman is no Goodfella’s, as the darker world of organised crime is explored through a socio-political lens rather than an individualistic one. This is a sweeping tale of love, loss, and life lived on the fringes of society as youth is slowly replaced by old age and invisibility.

As expected, Pacino, De Niro and Pesci hold your attention throughout, not through the brute force of their performances but their reflections of men who live fast in a changing world. Here, their very place and purpose shift before our eyes as their role becomes ever more redundant and politics takes them out of the social equation. Scorsese’s film is about time, change and the political twists and turns that shape a life and its ultimate end.

Despite the bravery of choosing Netflix as the premiere location, there is a pervading sense of sadness that The Irishman will bypass the cinema screen in favour of a TV or iPad. The artistry and spectacle of this epic feel watered down by a straight-to-streaming release, and as a result, The Irishman may not gain the audience traction it deserves. As the film closes, Scorsese asks us to consider whether Frank Sheeran holds genuine remorse for a life lived on the edge of society, his journey a nuanced exploration of the decisions an individual makes in life and the finality of those decisions in creating the cages we endure.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De NiroAl PacinoJoe Pesci, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham,

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