Haunting Embodiment of Cinematic Integrity
The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s most human film since Raging Bull. The film itself feels like an entire lifetime and not because it's three and a half hours long but because it takes humble pride in shadowing the essence of the internal baggage inside us that we never fully unpack.
In 1950s Philadelphia, truck driver Frank Sheehan (Robert De Niro) gets involved with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his Pennsylvania crime family. Sheehan slowly climbs up the ladder to become a top hitman and soon goes on to work for Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). De Niro’s performance isn't all that different from what he does in most of Scorsese’s films but with The Irishman, audiences can expect a raw sincerity in regards to his reflection of his crimes. He portrays Frank as someone who really understands the gravity of what he's lived through.
He feels that what happened, happened. It's done and over with. He portrays that mindset in a way that doesn't feel as though Frank is dismissing anything but rather acknowledging that he's gotten to a place that's so irréversible. This mindset is particularly accurate regarding his daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin). She has maybe just two lines in the whole film. She uses her eyes and facial expressions to say everything. The sincerity of her turmoil is so heartbreaking that you realize silence can sometimes speak louder than words.
Pesci is The Irishman’s phantom as his performance represents a presence that a Scorsese film couldn't survive without. He has the usual wise guy persona that's humorous and predictable but there's something that's almost violently graceful in how he taps into Russell. If he says something, it's because he finds it important. He never wastes time by showing off how comfortable and familiar he feels in a Scorsese setting.
The chemistry De Niro shares with Pacino is amazing because they are so wildly different but they just click. There's something about the two of them that fit perfectly together. De Niro doesn't try to understand it, he just embraces it head-on and the film excels because of it.
Pacino is the god of The Irishman. Not The Godfather, the god and as audiences, we never stop praying to him. In most of Scorsese’s films, portrayals of anger are motivated not by sincerity but toxic masculinity. His characters aren't truly angry at what they claim to be, they just want an excuse to yell and kill because it makes them feel like men. What I loved about The Irishman and Pacino, in particular, is that anger isn't something that's sought out if it's not there.
Pacino portrays Hoffa as someone who really does want everything to go right and if it doesn't, he'll take center stage until things are resolved. Audiences are able to take him seriously because he's not a liar. You will love him and fear him at the same time. Should he explode, just pray you’re not the closest thing to him. I actually found myself backing away from the screen during his outbursts without ever developing an urge to look away.
The cinematography is off the charts insane in a good way. The angles really gravitated towards the exquisite night exteriors and encapture the terror of the mob world. The cinematography is actually symbolic of how The Irishman feels like a lifetime. Early in life, excellent visuals look exciting but often near the end, they leave you feeling drained even though they still have the same brilliant quality.
Pacino really is The Irishman’s saving grace because when he goes, we all go too but very slowly. We as audiences are like Frank, slowly reaching the end of our lives. We feel hollow, empty and broken. Pacino was just too perfect and his departure took away too much. The ending of The Irishman was perfectly structured in that way. We as audiences don't just watch Frank, we become Frank because we learn to see things through his eyes and what that is, you can't shake off.
The Irishman is a haunting embodiment of cinematic integrity. Scorsese made The Irishman like a painting. He sprinkled some of his Scorsese fairy dust into it so that when he paints outside the lines, the film can't fall apart. Falling apart is our job and by the end of the film, we'll have succeeded. We will all have been gut-punched into a corner of melancholia that will leave us haunted for weeks to come.