The Irishman or I Heard you Paint Houses is the newest film directed by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Based off of the book of the same name by former homicide prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney Charles Brandt, the film recounts the life of Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro), a suspected mafia hitman linked with both the Bufalino crime family, headed by Russell Bufalino (played by Joe Pesci), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ president and long-time labour union leader, Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino), who went missing in July of 1975.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the production of this movie, and rightfully so. The decorated cast of longtime collaborators Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci joined by Al Pacino created a well-executed dynamic that should excite fans old and new. Headed by the director whose name is synonymous with mobster movies, Martin Scorsese delivers a tale of fraternity, corruption, and consequences, in an addition to his personal catalogue of films spanning over 55 years.
Apart from the iconic ensemble of actors, the movie generated attention because of the de-aging technology utilized to make the 79-year-old Pacino, and the 76-year-old De Niro and Pesci look decades younger. The film has an estimated budget ranging from $159 million- $175 million, most of which was purportedly spent on the CGI technology used to de-age the actors. When it comes to GCI in films, there is generally a lot of speculation as to how well incorporated the technology is in keeping realistic looking characters.
The Irishman’s execution of de-aging its main stars is done pretty well -but has its flaws. The youngest iterations of these characters -and therefore the least “believable” versions of them- are not on screen for very long, so the viewing experience is not drastically diminished. After some climatization to the film the technology does give itself away in its inability to alter the bodies and movement of the aged actors. Their faces do look believable, especially if you have not recently watched Raging Bull or Scarface, however their bodies move in ways that reveal the true ages of the actors portraying these characters. The combination of younger faces with older bodies, while does not ruin the film, does make for a distracting viewing experience at times.
Once you get over those mental barriers (which can affect the viewing experience if you dwell on them too much) this film has a lot to offer in terms of acting range, story progression, and brings a different perspective to the criminal underworlds Scorsese has explored throughout his filmography. The Irishman has more subtleties than Casino or Goodfellas and portrays a darker atmosphere, similar to the one depicted in the Departed. There is less glamour and less ostentatious humor (although there are character nuances that make for some funny moments). The Irishman is very much a movie about the moral implication of actions and the introspective reflection of those implications.
The film works well because it portrays an elderly man, played by an elderly man, directed by an elderly man, who have gotten to points in their lives where they have had time to reflect on their actions. The movie’s authenticity comes from the fact that although, De Niro and Scorsese may not have been directly involved with the sort of activities Frank Sheeran has, by virtue of their age they know what it is to actually reflect on the consequences of their lives’ actions through the lens of old age. If this movie was made by a younger director with younger actors, they may not have had the life experience to properly portray these sentiments in the way Scorsese and company do. This past point becomes more pertinent in the instances where there is little to no use of the de-aging CGI.
The best moments in the film come from the exchanges between the main cast trio. Joe Pesci gives a good performance that seems totally night and day to the way he has carried himself in recent interviews. He is remarkably livelier and more present in the film than he appears to be when fulfilling media obligations. His film demeaner is reminiscent of the Joe Pesci of years past: exactly what was required of him for this project. Al Pacino also does a wonderful job at being more lively. Although I was impressed with Pesci’s performance, Pacino really does steal the show with his scenes of erupting passions.
His ability to turn on his charism is so captivating that you cannot help but marvel at the talent this experienced actor still exudes. Pacino’s performance in the Irishman is phenomenal. Robert De Niro, who plays the titular character, seems like a rather flat character throughout the film. Although my first impression was that De Niro’s performance lacked luster, upon further reflection, it only made sense that the man who would make a name for himself by “painting houses” would be a blank slate who internalized his feelings (if they were ever present to begin with).
All in all, The Irishman’s cast and crew provide a good showing that plays tribute to the works of art Scorsese has produced in the past. The performances are impressive, especially considering the leads play characters throughout various decades of their lives. The CGI de-aging is pretty good, although it can be particularly distracting in wide shots, it does benefit the story more than it harms it. Although detractors of the film may cite the 3-and-a-half-hour runtime as a deterrent, I personally find that after the first hour, Scorsese’s master storytelling draws you in until the end. Despite the longer runtime, worried fans can take solace knowing that The Irishman finds home on Netflix November 27.
If you are really anticipating the release of this film, do not mind the longer runtime, and have the option available to you, there is a limited theatrical release of the Irishman that I would urge you to attend.