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The Irishman

<><> (as a movie)

This would have been a very good mini-series. It is an unacceptably long movie at 3:29. Thankfully it is on Netflix, so you can pause it whenever needed. Beyond the length, it is not a particularly interesting mob movie. It circles around Frank Sheeran’s relationship with Jimmy Hoffa.

The movie is called The Irishman because Frank Sheeran was of Irish descent. Jimmy Hoffa was of German descent. The movie focuses on the Italian mob welcoming in these outsiders. Sheeran is played by famously Italian Robert De Niro and Hoffa by more famously Italian Al Pacino. In making a mob movie about non-Italians all that director Martin Scorsese could come up with were Italians. Saying that De Niro and Pacino play their characters is a bit of a stretch. This movie takes place over many years and very liberal use of de-aging CGI is employed. It works acceptably well, no obvious gaffs, but it is too close to the uncanny valley. Pretty soon we won’t need living actors at all.

One common theme of mob movies is a plethora of characters that have few differentiating characteristics. The audience must be routinely reminded who is who. The Irishman goes so far as to make a joke in the movie about not being able to keep all the ‘Tonys’ straight. While there are a few main characters including Russel Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci, there is a constantly rotating cast of people that all get shot sometime between 1979 and 1980. If someone was shot to death, the movie puts up text describing it; 1980 was a particularly bad year. Keeping track of characters might be easy in smaller doses or even for the first two hours of a film, but attention naturally starts to wane, and it is easy to get lost.

The movie is based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses”, a euphemism for executing hits on people. It is based on death bed interviews with Sheeran, though it was released posthumously. It is highly speculative, as the mob did a great job of fogging up the truth. It is up to the audience to decide how reliable Sheeran is as a narrator to one of the biggest unsolved mysteries. In the movie, Sheeran’s middle daughter, Peggy, stops talking to Sheeran after Hoffa dies. Peggy, the adult version portrayed by Oscar winner Anna Paquin, also has no lines in the film. It is a father-daughter relationship that was never on the right foot, despite Frank’s meager attempts to right it. Family scenes are sprinkled throughout the movie to show just how perceptive Peggy was, without dialog. I am left asking, did Frank Sheeran give a death bed confessional with the hope that his daughter would forgive him in the afterlife? If that is Frank’s motivation, then the entire narrative of the movie can be thrown into question. Could this be just another Green Book, where Sheeran and Hoffa were never actually friends?

I am in full support of Netflix and Amazon Studios making full-length movie theater-quality films. I think they are at their best when it is an up-and-coming cast, writer, or director. This movie is filled with big names. I think that Netflix gave Scorsese a giant pile of cash and free reign over this movie. There were plenty of tiny five-second scenes sprinkled throughout the movie that must have cost a pretty penny but didn’t advance the plot. A half dozen cars were blown up for those little scenes. In a mini-series, these little detours would be fine. They could even be explored more deeply. In The Irishman, they just felt like a waste of time. This film could easily have been edited to under three hours or perhaps even more without losing anything. This is not one of Scorsese’s best films. It isn’t even his best mob related movie. Take your time to work your way through this movie at your leisure. It is always going to be waiting on Netflix and you do have the pause button to take a break.

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