‘The Irishman’ is an instant timeless epic

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro reunite in the long-waited Netflix film


Courtesy of The Irishman Official Facebook Page

By Lauren LaMagna, Arts Editor

There are few cinematic collaborations that are just simply lighting in a bottle. With their Hollywood egos, actors and directors are bound to butt heads. But every once in a while magic happens where actors and directors understand each other as if they were cut from the same cloth. Pairings like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, Molly Ringwald and John Hughes, Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino. But none of these pairs will beat the legendary collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, who team up for the first time in 25 years with “The Irishman.”

The film, based off of Charles Brandt’s book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” tells the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), and his alleged involvement with the Italian Mafia starting in the 1950s. The audience follows Sheeran’s journey as a mafia hitman and his eventual involvement with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), who has remained a missing person since 1975. The film follows Sheeran as he advances in the business, contemplating what is wrong and right as he ages and gets to know Hoffa as a person.

It took Scorsese and De Niro, who also produced the film, 12 years to make “The Irishman,” but Scorsese didn’t let those missing years stop him. Considering that the film is a life story and starts with Sheeran as a young man, Scorsese didn’t cast younger actors for his principle cast. Thanks to miraculous CGI de-aging technology, 76-year-old De Niro, 76-year-old Joe Pesci  — who plays Russell Bufalino — and 79-year-old Pacino are transformed into their younger selves. At first glances, the younger versions are jarring and not completely realistic. But as the film progresses and the characters age, the effect becomes convincing. 50-year-old De Niro looks significantly better than 30-year-old De Niro.

Distributed by Netflix, this three-and-a-half-hour epic comprises the best actors of their generation. De Niro, Pacino and Pesci are all at home in the world of a Martin Scorsese New York mafia epic. The audience can tell that they feel comfortable with each other and the man behind the camera. They bring out a specific rhythm in each other that few other artists can. This also shows how comfortable Scorsese is directing his actors. It seems as if four friends got together and made a film because they wanted to. There’s no seniority or ego, it is just a group of artists making what they love. When one watches it, it is obvious that they are watching the godfathers of cinema doing what they do best.

It is apparent that the film revolves around De Niro as the audience watches him grow from a young World War II veteran to an unconventional employee of the mafia in the height of their reign in New York City. De Niro, unlike his recent roles, is much quieter playing Frank Sheeran. Frank plays his cards close to his chest. He’s loyal to his employer but is always aware that his boss can easily turn on him the next day, and this becomes evident as his respect for Hoffa grows over the course of the film. He tries with all his might to convince Hoffa to follow the mob’s orders, but he can never bluntly say why. Through Frank, Scorsese discusses the combination of organized crime and ethics. The audience can see through Franks bright blue eyes (that were digitally changed from De Niro’s natural color) that he is constantly fighting an internal struggle between right and wrong. But the star of the film is Pacino as Hoffa, who is hot, energetic and refuses to take no for an answer. In a 210-minute film filled with carefully worded conversations with underlying meanings, his charismatic, “leader of the working man” persona is welcomed whole-heartedly by the audience. It’s the relationship between Hoffa and Frank that is the emotional backbone of the film that pulls on its audience’s heart strings as the film progresses.

“The Irishman” tackles the world of organized crime and politics around one of the country’s most interesting mafia cases. To this day, the world does not know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared on July 30, 1975. But Scorsese doesn’t play up the reality of the disappearance; he instead brilliantly tells the story of the man that could have been assigned to assassinate him, that was also known to be Hoffa’s friend. Through the film, Scorsese shows the full toll of dedicating one’s life to organized crime.

“The Irishman” isn’t Scorsese’s best film nor is it the best mafia film ever made. The de-aging in the first half is shocking and the film could definitely be 30 minutes shorter. But if “The Irishman” solidifies anything, it is that Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

Lauren LaMagna is the Arts Editor and can be reached at [email protected].