The Irishman was possibly one of the most anticipated films released in 2019. The movie features Martin Scorsese behind the camera with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci returning to act again in the gangster genre. In The Irishman, Frank Sheeran (De Niro) tells Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) about organized crime, loyalty, and the importance of being on time for a meeting. Did Scorsese accomplish anything here? A possible return to his true form? Is The Irishman the next great American gangster film?
Nostalgia: At times, when watching this film, you feel relieved that you get to watch Bobby, Pacino, and Pesci in these gangster roles. Since the loss of appeal of gangster movies during the past decade, The Irishman finally delivers. This film cannot be watched and broken down without noticing reflections of the greats like The Godfather, Casino, and Goodfellas. The American gangster movie genre was generally perceived as "overplayed" throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. And its essence, I think it might be one of the most important genres in American film history. No one knows this genre quite like Scorsese. So, on the surface level, I say confidently that The Irishman is everything the cinematic audience could want in a gangster film.
However…it doesn't deliver in other ways. Firstly, Joe Pesci is typically known to be cast character roles that are loud, charismatic, crass, and kinda scary. But Joe is not the Joe we know in this film, and that was the first noticeably disappointing part of the movie. Pesci isn't suited to play a Russell Bufalino type of character. I get that there are some limitations here because, of course, this is a book adaptation. But, when you have an actor like Joe Pesci, they could have the creative license to allow him to be more like "Joe" and less like "Russell." Equally disappointing was Robert De Niro's performance of the spineless and codependent Frank Sheeran, who was made less likable and less interesting scene after scene. No explanation as to why Pesci and De Niro were as muzzled like they were. If the source material was that bland, then screenwriter Steven Zaillian was the one with the responsibility to create some life within it. While not the performance of the decade or even his career, Pacino’s portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa was fascinating to watch. The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Hoffa is now considered an American legend. Hoffa’s descent into madness and paranoia is played so well by Pacino that it could inspire any American to crack open the records and try to solve the cold case.
Still Honorable: There is something to be said about the work that Scorsese does. The Irishman may have had some flat performances, but the direction outside of dialogue scenes was what I believe to be some of Scorsese's best work. Francis Ford Coppola has crafted one of the most iconic ending shots in The Godfather. Watch that film, consider the circumstances and the importance of that moment. Then, watch the ending shot of The Irishman.