Consequence is the driving theme of Martin Scorsese’s crime epic The Irishman. As the life of mobster Frank Sheeran is recounted, there is violence and it is crime ridden, but this is less the flash and bang of Scorsese’s previous gangster films. Instead it is the quiet and haunting portrayal of a man prioritising the mobster’s life over anything else.
It must be said I have been conflicted by this film. On one hand I think it is a director working at his best, with a thrilling and tragic take on the life of a mobster. Then on the other, you have an overly long, messy and unfocused story, that often pulled me out of the experience as I tried to decipher who was who and what their agendas were.
The Irishman is its best when it strips away the superfluous details and has a simple singular goal. Frank Sheeran showing the you the ropes of being a hitman is fast paced and vastly interesting. Then we are weighed down by teamsters and the union, which Scorsese seemed overly concerned to cover. However, as we come to the crux of the film – the issue of Jimmy Hoffa – it becomes real simple again, and with it a visceral tension that had me wriggling in my seat.
While I haven’t seen all of Scorsese’s films (including Taxi Driver… I know, I know!) this generally feels like his least focused. There isn’t ever the clear simple goal of say, getting rich like in The Wolf of Wall Street. We never really know why protagonist Frank Sheeran is doing what he is doing. You get the sense that once he is in he is in, but Scorsese’s doesn’t seem concerned with that side of the story. The Irishman isn’t bothered with what came before, instead what comes after, asking what is left after a life of crime.
The integral theme of consequence is the film’s highest accolade. The conclusion to this three-and-a-half-hour crime epic, feels like it could only come from an older director, with a different perspective on the life of gangsters. To contradict complaints of runtime and story focus, it is because of these elements that the ending has as much impact. After all the bustle comes the quiet. It was an approach that I never saw coming, and the main element that stopped me from entirely shutting myself off from the film.
As something that I just want to briefly mention, the de-aging in the film was excellent. Entirely jarring in the opener of the film, it quickly fades into the background. Besides the odd shot and a weird glazed look in De Niro’s eyes, it becomes completely natural to the film and you start to question when they are even using it as the character’s age. Sadly, the technology can’t do anything for the bodies, as a few of violent acts are marred by the stilted and awkward movement of a men in their late 70s trying to move like 40-year-olds.
The review for The Irishman was a difficult one to write. My overall impressions as I finished it was that there was more I didn’t like than liked. Yet as a few days past and I sat down to write this review, my mind began to wonder on the tragedy of its story, finding more reason to enjoy it. It has excellent performances, brilliant writing, a unique angle on the gangster’s life and in that sense it feels like a film that only Scorsese could have directed. It is an interesting film that will likely warrant a second viewing, but its numbered issues made it an experience that ultimately fell short.