THE IRISHMAN (2019).Ray Ramano (Bill Bufalino ) Al Pacino (Jimmy Hoffa) and Robert De Niro (Frank Sheeran)

The Irishman – an epic swan song let down by a straight to streaming release

FILM AND TV

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. The Irishman, therefore, not only brings back together Pesci and De Niro, it finally unites Scorsese and Pacino. The result is an outstanding crime/drama that feels like an epic swan song.

The Irishman takes us through three decades in the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a real-life union boss and fixer who died in 2003, aged 83. Here Scorsese weaves an intricate and sprawling tale based on Charles Brandt’s novel, I Heard You Paint Houses. We are taken from Sheeran’s humble routes as a meat van driver in the 50s through 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. Here Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) would become the nearest thing to a friend Sheeran could hope for.


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Set against the changing socio-political face of 60s America, where John F. Kennedy would sweep into the White House before the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the eventual Cuban missile crisis. The Irishman explores the links between mob crime and union activity before moving on to Robert Kennedy’s campaign against organised crime, the Kennedy assassinations and Watergate. The result is as far from Goodfella’s as you can get, with a melancholy pace that is more interested in the events of the 50s, 60s and 70s and the impact on the individual than mob crime. Here we are offered a sweeping tale of loss, love, and a life lived on the fringes of society as youth is replaced by old age and invisibility.


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Both direction, performances and editing hold the trademark brilliance of Pacino, De Niro, Pesci, Scorsese and  Schoonmaker. However, despite the bravery of choosing a Netflix release, there is a pervading sense of sadness that The Irishman will bypass the cinema screen in favour of a TV or iPad. Here the artistry and spectacle of this epic feel watered down by a straight-to-streaming release, and I wonder whether it will linger in the memory as a result.

As the film closes, we are left wondering whether Frank Sheeran holds genuine remorse, and Scorsese ultimately leaves you to answer that question. But the journey he provides is a nuanced exploration of the decisions an individual makes in life and the finality of those decisions in creating the cages we endure in later life.


Director: Martin Scorsese

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

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