The Irishman (2019)

Although the running time genuinely intimidated me — two hours are a lot for me so you can imagine my feelings toward a three hour and a half long film —, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman was on the top of my 2019 watch-list as I appreciate most of the director's work and I was really interested in seeing what he could do with all the freedom Netflix would grant him. And, there's no other way to put it, Scorsese's latest film didn't meet my expectations, it blew them as it is a tremendously enthralling, fascinating, charming, surprisingly funny and yet serious gangster film and easily Scorsese's most involving, engaging film on an emotional level.

The Irishman opens in 2003 with one of Scorsese's long takes, passing through a nursing home to make its way to an aged Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who starts recalling and reflecting on his life of crime. A World War II veteran turned into a meat delivery driver, in 1954 Sheeran becomes friends with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and soon stars carrying out various commissions for him. Once the relationship is established, Sheeran earns everyone's trust and begins painting houses — a euphemism for killing people.

Bufalino soon introduces Sheeran to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the president of the Mob-funded Teamsters Union facing federal investigation and struggling to deal with a rising teamster, Anthony "Pro" Provenzano (Stephen Graham), as he wants to keep Hoffa under control and out of trouble.

Sheeran and Hoffa get along immediately and become great friends, always supporting each other, both in good and bad times, with Sheeran often playing middleman because of Hoffa's habit of speaking out regardless of whom he's talking to. As the years go by, Hoffa becomes a real problem for the mob, and Sheeran's will be the worst place to be in.

In The Irishman, Scorsese is yet again telling the story of a guy who is recalling his time with the mob and, as usual, it is a pure delight to watch. The story is intricated and engrossing from start to finish, even when it slows down noticeably in the last half hour or so. Whether it's historically accurate or not — I don't know as I had never heard of any of these people before watching the film —, Scorsese does a fantastic job at showing how life in the mob is and, especially, in showing in how many things gangsters were involved back in those days. But there's more. The Irishman is the absorbing story of a man who has lost his soul in the name of loyalty and gratitude. It's also the story of the broken relationship between a father and her daughter Peggy (played by Lucy Gallina as a child and by Anna Paquin as an adult) as she serves as the film and Frank's conscience and it's through their relationship, their unspoken dialogue, mainly provided by Peggy, that we see how much the gangster lifestyle influences/ruins the private life of its members.

In addition to the great story, the screenplay also features a great main character. Frank is different from the previous characters Scorsese brought to the screen. A man who is expected to show absolute loyalty and yet is never rewarded for his efforts, who has lost so much and had so little in return, Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran is not one of the depraved characters who enjoys every aspect of the gangster life. He is a man with a conscience, a conscience that comes, as I mentioned above, in the form of a resentful daughter. He is a crushed, damaged man who understands one’s desirability to be a better person, to be a proper human being, but he doesn’t want it for himself because he’s rotten inside. He doesn’t redeem himself and yet there’s something about him, about his failing to feel remorse that makes him at least redeemable. There’s also plenty of less developed and yet interesting supporting characters, even those making a brief appearance being able to leave a mark.

The cast is absolutely brilliant here. As charismatic as he used to be, Robert De Niro’s performance as Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran is utterly convincing and pure masterclass, especially when it comes to conveying Sheeran’s inner conflict and displaying the strength of Sheeran’s friendships and loyalty. Joe Pesci, who came out of retirement for this film, knocks it out of the park as Russell Bufalino. Magnetic to say the least, Pesci’s performance is cold, deadly quiet and absolutely unsettling — not to mention how nice it is to see him play De Niro’s boss as opposed to the inferior-level monster he plays in Goodfellas. It’s Al Pacino who absolutely steals the show for me though. In the role of the fiery, arrogant and outrageous Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino gives a charming, memorable and uncanny performance, and delivers most of the film’s humour. The rest of the supporting cast does a good job too, although it’s only a few of them who has enough to do to shine — Stephen Graham and Bobby Cannavale are both great in the roles of gangsters Tony Pro and Joe Gallo respectively, but it’s a Ray Romano at the top of his game in the role of lawyer Bill Bufalino that steals the scene. Worthy of mention is Anna Paquin who manages to excel with very limited screen time and almost no dialogue.

Another sticking aspect of The Irishman is the violence, or rather the lack of it. There’s indeed very little violence for a gangster film, a clear attempt of Scorsese to not glamourise and glorify gangsters and their lifestyle in the way Goodfellas did.

Technically speaking, Scorsese’s direction is flawless as he builds suspense and delivers a sense of dread that keeps you on the edge of your seat while keeping the film’s tone on the light side. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is nothing short of stunning, Thelma Schoonmaker’s fast editing is great and makes time fly — I had to take a few breaks because I was tired on Wednesday night and had to leave for work on Thursday evening, but I never checked the timeline while watching, a real rarity for me —, the production design and sets are outstanding, and Robbie Robertson’s score fits the film incredibly well.

My only criticism, in addition to the lack of strong female characters, is the de-ageing CGI technology. While it’s fantastic work for most of the film’s runtime, the younger Robert De Niro looks like a character from a computer game — his mouth and especially his Legolas-blue (thank you Matt for the reference) eyes gives him away, the latter also being rather distracting — and, no matter how good the visual effects are, the de-aged actors/younger characters still like old men —is particularly evident is a scene where De Niro beats a minor character.


  1. I'm downloading the film right now as I hope to see this as I am a fan of Scorsese though it's a shame it's unlikely I'll see it in the theaters.

  2. This didn't work for me all that well, that de-aging thing was just too distracting. But Pacino was indeed excellent and if I ever rewatch this one it will only be for him

    1. The de-ageing was a bit distracting for me too, but only at first. I'm sorry to hear you didn't love it but at least you loved Pacino :)

  3. I'm glad you like this! I actually hadn't realized at first that they changed his eye color, I just noticed that his eyes always looked like they were watering and I found it distracting.

    1. Me neither. I don't know why but I was pretty convinced De Niro had blue eyes so I didn't understand why making them that colour lol