Martin Scorsese’s ninth collaboration with Robert DeNiro Joker now the highest grossing R rated film) is also a reunion with Joe Pesci, coaxed out of retirement in a long-gestating labor of love.
So, it is fitting that The Irishman is another extensive plumbing of the mafia universe that he continues to excel here in a more wistful way realized through the passage of time. Also, an opportunity to partake in the high-tech process of making performers look like they use to as in the recent Gemini Man that could be perceived as a bit off-putting. Especially in certain action-oriented sequences or misplacing evidence.
From a 2004 memoir I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, the prolific septuagenarian conveys a sprawling, in-debt account with scenarist Steven Zaillian (Gangs of New York) about the Italian-American Philly based Bufalino family syndicate. Specifically, DeNiro’s titular Frank Sheeran, a hit man in their employ. After the war the veteran has been skimming beef in the truck-driving business for heavy Joe Gallo (Bobby Cannavale).
An ominous feeling prevails early when a tracking shot moves through a retirement home with a lonely Sheeran in a wheelchair referring to himself as a ‘warrior.’ This opens up the mood and story of an existence of thriving amidst danger. Frank happens to be sharp and perilously discreet making an ideal fit for his line of work. Becoming more and more immersed into the gangster milieu puts an increasing strain on his family life. The hushed prescience of Anna Paquin as grown up and observant daughter Peggy denotes the schism that cannot be denied.
A bond which blooms and slowly sours is between Sheeran and Teamster Union president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The candor of their discoursing provides a ‘safety blanket.’ However, hubris and self-regard begins to loosen a strong association, especially in the obstinacy in dealing with foe Fitzsimmons (Gary Basaraba), after having a part in the Kennedy election and subsequent fallout regarding Cuba.
Pacino provides an audacious, highly watch able ebullience to Hoffa who inevitably becomes a target in the mid-1970s with a controlled entropy and decadence evident in this grainy, muted nostalgia spanning decades. Conversely, Pesci’s mob boss (on a framing road trip with Frank to Detroit with their chain-smoking spouses) Russ Bufalino happens to be a more subdued portrait of wielding influence and power in fatherly fashion.
It’s easy to see he hasn’t lost genuine rapport with his Casino (Don Rickles is a character here) and Good Fellas cohort who solidly leads well in this framework (even with many element to negotiate, including political, as the culture), too is embroiled in crime. Ray Romano as a legalese in the Bufalino clan, Harvey Keitel as local gangster Angelo Bruno, and Stephen Graham as a combative union heads, who still may appear to be too overwhelmed at times.
Still, if the iconic auteur’s touch isn’t as propulsive and centered as in his more youthful days, he instills much more than expected with his crack craft contributions to provide more detail in a measured way of many connected to Frank’s ambitious gambit, including fateful dates. At this point in his twilight The Irishman is quite a counterpoint to the striking abandon of The Wolf of Wall Street. Gradually, it becomes a thoughtful rumination painstakingly rendered in a mobster’s tainted glory of love and hand in history.