The Movie Waffler London Film Festival 2019 Review - THE IRISHMAN | The Movie Waffler

Sponsor

London Film Festival 2019 Review - THE IRISHMAN

the irishman review
A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Al Paquin, Bobby Cannavale

the irishman poster



It's unreal just how good Martin Scorsese is. With a career full of scorchingly good works, for all the years in which he's worked, there's at least one masterpiece per decade that sticks out as an exemplification of his nonpareil filmmaking talents. For the '70s, Taxi Driver; '80s, Raging Bull; '90s, Goodfellas. The noughties, The Aviator… well it is for me anyway; I imagine the consensus favours The Departed. Now, he closes out the 2010s with The Irishman, which is not only his greatest film of the decade but maybe his greatest film since Goodfellas.

the irishman review
Nobody really knows what happened to Jimmy Hoffa (portrayed by Al Pacino), who died in absentia, but there was one hitman who claims to have been involved in his disappearance. That's Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), whose embedment within Hoffa's union led to a genuine friendship with a tragic arc, for Sheeran was operating under crime lord Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), who wasn't easily convinced by the Teamsters leader. The Irishman is a decades-long retelling of Frank's story, which Jimmy Hoffa was a major part of, continuing to haunt his psyche long after that saga was over.

[ READ MORE: London Film Festival 2019 Review - A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ]

As well as properly filling in the void of epic mobster movies that's been vacant since the filmmaker's own Casino, The Irishman is amazingly satisfying as a historically detailed narrative about the intertwining of gangsters and politicians, not seen since Boardwalk Empire went off air - another work bearing the master's name in the directing credits. Encompassing this epic story is a host of terrific actors playing real people, including Stephen Graham as Hoffa's frenemy Tony Provenzano, Harvey Keitel as Philly crime boss Angelo Bruno, Jack Huston as Robert F. Kennedy and Ray Romano as Russell's cousin Bill Bufalino, an attorney who represented the Teamsters. Any combination of those actors on-screen is terrific, and the script offers countless moments of humorous interplay, particularly between Pacino and Graham.

the irishman review
Many of these actors have worked with Scorsese before, and his trust in selecting regular collaborators to fill out each of the roles for the sprawling cast pays off. Famously, the one prominent star who's never worked with the director is Pacino. As Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino operates on the outward acting plane he's been enjoying since his Oscar victory but this is a rare role where the style perfectly works, for Hoffa is a leader with a capital L, bellowing "solidarity!" to his followers and shrugging off any attempt to restrain his big ambitions, including from JFK's hostile brother. Steve Zaillian's excellent script, which finds the heart, humour and period-accurate dialogue for the story, lends well to Pacino's best performance in years.

[ READ MORE: London Film Festival 2019 Review - Judy & Punch ]

We've missed Pesci, but seeing him here makes us realise the great extent of just how much we've missed him. His performance in Goodfellas was deliciously off-the-chain, whereas over here his self-control and restraint makes for a mobster who's just as scary as Tommy DeVito - Pesci makes playing the polar opposite look so easy. De Niro reinforces the maxim "form is temporary, class is permanent" by delivering his best performance in many years under the guidance of his great partnership with the director.

the irishman review
Beyond the great performances and writing, The Irishman could even be appreciated with the sound off, as DP Rodrigo Prieto and editor Thelma Schoonmaker apply their finesse to the photography and editing. Just watch how the shot reverse shot is used during the scenes of the Teamsters dinner and when Frank sits down with Angelo Bruno for the first time. It's a masterclass in creating tension and how to give us new information with every cut reverse shot, while enriching your understanding of the relationships between the characters. Part of Marty's mastery is his ability to be so technically outstanding in service of his story that the camerawork and editing never draws attention to itself. What does draw attention is the de-aging, which I must say is really impressively done, becoming invisible after just a few minutes of exposure. It never overshadows the acting either - within his outstanding full-bodied performance, De Niro's commitment to posture alone takes him back to his forties.

In addition to the poignancy in the queasiness of Frank's journey to the end of his life, growing old with a deep guilt and living with it, there's a deep poignancy on a meta level - it might be the last time this crop of talent comes together. Thankfully, they've given us a stone cold, razor sharp masterpiece.

The Irishman is in UK/ROI cinemas November 8th and on Netflix November 27th.




2019 movie reviews



discussion by