Friday, November 29, 2019

Review: Martin Scorsese has blessed us with another magnificent crime saga with "The Irishman"

The Irishman Review
Now, that I have finally seen Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" I think I understand him much better on his stance against Marvel films. Even if I will always respectfully disagree with him.

"The Irishman" is not just another crime saga. That would be really easy for Martin Scorsese to do, but "easy" really isn't a word in Scorsese's vocabulary. He's one of Hollywood's true artists, and I really don't care how artsy-fartsy that may sound. He is constantly pushing himself as a filmmaker and as an artist and he is always trying to fill our auditorium screens with things we've never seen before. Every time he sets out to make a gangster movie, he barely ever repeats himself. 

"Goodfellas" is still one of my favorite films of all time, and what I love about that movie is that Ray Liotta's Henry Hill is a person that always wanted that mobster lifestyle. He didn't care that he was breaking several laws a day, he didn't care that he had to kill, he care that he had to steal, he didn't care that he cheated on his wife then cheated on his mistress while still cheating on his wife. At the end of the film, when he's witness protection, he hardly seems to feel any guilt with the life he chose. "These days I have to wait in line for bread, just like everyone else" he scowls at the camera as he picks up his morning paper. "Mean Streets" blended religious guilt over a mobster backdrop. "Gangs of New York" gave a glimpse of history we are never taught in schools. "The Departed" was this crazy mix of a Hong Kong remake with a true story which became 2006 biggest's and best pop culture moment. If I have a problem with "Casino," its that Scorsese made a mob movie with nothing new to say, its basically Goodfellas in Nevada.

So what is "The Irishman?" Well, along with Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" its one of the most important movies about the current industry. When Scorsese says those things about Marvel movies, he isn't trying to bash those fans. He is trying to articulate what he sees as a problem with the current industry in Hollywood. I've already written about this a little bit myself on this site, and while I will always love the Marvel movies, I am plenty aware of the sins they have to answer for. The "shared universe" mentality hasn't been the biggest blessing for the medium. When there is only one type of movie you can see at the theater at a time, when studios aren't willing to take risks anymore and go for the easy money, that is definitely a problem. Scorsese sees it as a problem. There was a time when you could sell a movie using big actors, and that day seems to have evaporated completely from the medium. Nobody seems to want to give other movies a chance, we are just looking for the next big franchise to be obsessed with for the next decade. The beauty of movies is that they aren't one size fits all. You can communicate whatever you want with them because movies are language. A language of sight and sound. When we limit what we can do with this language, it hurts more than it helps.

Martin Scorsese is definitely obsessed with the legacy of the business right now and that's precisely what "The Irishman" is about, the legacy of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). Its a movie about how Frank Sheeran reflects upon himself, and the guilt and the highs and the regrets he feels about the life he chose. When we meet Frank Sheeran, he's just a regular guy trying to provide for his family. He drives meat delivery trucks and after meeting some bad men, he begins selling some of his shipments to the Philadelphia Mob. When he is on the verge of getting in trouble with the law for it, its the mob's lawyer that helps him out of it. That eventually leads him to more stealing, then eventually murder, as he moves on up the chain. He becomes a very trusted man to Russell Bufalino (Joe Pecsi), a high-ranking member of the Philadelphia mob.

The movie is Sheeran's life throughout the mob, how he bounces off of other mobsters; like Felix DiTuillo (Bobby Cannavale) and Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and even becoming close friends with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). This life leads to an estranged relationship with his daughter Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin). The movie really isn't about one main event, but it never feels like a washed-up biography movie. By the end of the movie, we feel the man's entire legacy fall at our own feet. 

Netflix gave Scorsese an $160 million budget to make the movie, and that is pretty significant right there. It shows that Netflix is continuing to stay a power player as a source of top-notch entertainment and it shows how far Scorsese is willing to go to get his art to the masses. No studio in the business right now would give anybody that kind of money to make a mob movie, and again, that's another example of the "shared universe" business at work right now. Scorsese will jump through hoops to make his movies. "Gangs of New York" was in the works since 1976, apparently. And Scorsese also had to fight hard to get "The Last Temptation of Christ" to the screen, for an understandable reason too. Any time a movie about Jesus or God is made, its immediately put under the Scrutiny Microscope, so it is a miracle it got released at all. He is a man committed to his art, and you can see that with every frame of "The Irishman."

We will get to talking about the actors in just a minute, but I do want to take the time to say that the de-aging visual effects in this film are state-of-the-art and excellent. Robert De Niro through the years in this movie is amazing to just watch. You could put the movie on mute and be dazzled by how far visual effects have come. The same can be said about Joe Pesci too, because those effects on his character are just as good. Sometimes, you will have a hard time figuring out where the visual effects end and when make-up actually stops. Domenick Lombardozzi isn't an A-lister in the business, but he's one of those actors you'd recognize if you Googled him. He plays a character named Fat Tony in this movie, for good reason. Lombardozzi absolutely vanishes in this role, and I honestly can't tell if he's wearing make-up or if its some kind of CGI trick. Honestly, I don't want to know because its one of the best moments in his career.

Acting-wise, the movie is just a ball to watch simply to watch the actors bounce off each other. "The Irishman" is a long movie, at three-and-a-half hours. But you never once feel like you are watching a long movie, because each and every actor is at the top of their game. The two best are easily Pecsi, who has been missing in action for way too long. Then there is Robert De Niro, giving another performance that will further define his career. Watching him work with Cannavale, Keitel, Pacino and the likes of Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Marin Ireland and Stephen Graham. Scorsese is able to generate great performances out of all of his actors, with genuine amount of ease. Everyone is on fire here, at all times.

There are several directors who have made careers doing the same thing over and over again. Others take their usual themes and tell different stories with them, the best of the best can do that. Scorsese is one of those artists and he has once again proven why he's one of the greats.


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