Every once in a while there comes along a movie where it seems like dissension or diversity of opinion is not allowed. You either have to like or hate it or you are not worthy of being called a true aficionado of film. This is how I felt going into the new film from Martin Scorsese, The Irishman. I was told it is a masterpiece (a word that has lost all meaning from over-use these days) and it is destined to win best picture at the Oscars. This may be the case, but unfortunately I walked away from the screening with very mixed feelings. I will do my best to explain why.
Let’s start out talking about the positives. First, the performances are outstanding. Of course, Robert Deniro as the lead character Frank Sheeran and Al Pacino as famous teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa are the standouts. However, there is also a lot of exemplary supporting work: Joe Pesci is excellent as Russell Bufalino. Ray Ramano is wonderful as mob attorney Bill Bufalino. The list could go on for days.
The Irishman is also wonderfully produced with beautiful period details from costumes, hair and makeup, to production design. As it’s a very long movie at 209 minutes these details helped immerse you thoroughly into in the story. I also think the de-aging technology is flawless. You forget Robert Deniro is 76 years old in the flashback scenes! There is no sense of uncanny valley or weirdness we’ve seen in other attempts such as in the last Pirates of the Caribbean film.
All of these positive aspects left me wrestling with my score for The Irishman. Unfortunately I had a lot of problems with the story and characters. As I mentioned, this is an over 3 hour film, which in and of itself isn’t a negative. However, the problem is the story does not sustain such a run-time and the pacing feels self-indulgent and ponderous. There are so many scenes that felt unnecessary or over-extended beyond what is needed for the plot
For example, there’s a scene where a character has a wet car and they joke about the wetness coming from a fish. “What kind of fish?” He doesn’t know. “How can he not know the fish?” I guess that is supposed to be interesting or funny? It certainly was neither for me. There are so many scenes like that where the narrative went nowhere or it told us things we already knew about our characters. So, unless you just love being in the world of mob movies you’re going to lose interest real quick.
A lot of the problems in the narrative come down to Frank as a character. At the beginning he talks about coming out of the army and how he learned to follow orders and not feel emotion about the horrors he was both seeing and participating in. This military-like approach becomes his philosophy for working with the mob. He’s workmanlike about his actions and doesn’t have much guilt or conflict about them.
In contrast, in The Godfather Michael’s character is actively fighting his destiny as head of the family. Practically the first scene of the film is him telling Kay he is not his family. Every part of the narrative then leads back to that core conflict. Will Michael give in and follow his father or will he stick to his morals and leave? This is an interesting character arc and it is reinforced by every other character’s choices throughout the film. Each person in the family learns their lives would be better if they just listened to the Don.
In The Irishman there is no such conflict. Up until the very end Frank does what he is told without any kind of moral crisis. I heard some claim the film is about introspection and questioning our legacy. I did not see such a theme. For most of the movie he’s a character who is perfectly happy to be a team player to fiery characters like Jimmy Hoffa.
Pacino as Hoffa is more interesting than Frank but we still don’t get much of a character arc from him. He ends the film at the same spot he began at, which would be fine, if I wasn’t asked to watch him not change for over 3 hours. And I know not all movies need someone to root for but with such a run-time shouldn’t we at least empathize with someone? Again, in The Godfather, we are rooting for Michael because his motivations begin so pure.
In my opinion, any good mafia movie should be at least slightly allegorical. The insular nature of the society makes it easy to weave metaphors about both our own society and the individual choices we make. However, for The Irishman I don’t understand what the allegory is? What are we supposed to learn from this mafia soldier? Even the most dramatic moment of the story is executed with little emotion or seeming moral conflict. It is not until the very end that we finally get a narrative of regret and contrition, which in my opinion wasn’t enough.
In the end, despite many strengths in performances and production, The Irishman is not a film I can recommend. As I said, the pacing is too ponderous and self-indulgent, the characters are too stagnant, and the story lacks an emotional punch. Other people clearly disagree, and that’s fine. If it sounds like something you’d enjoy I encourage you to go and see for yourself. It will soon be on Netflix so most people will be able to easily watch it at home. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.
4 out of 10
26 thoughts on “[REVIEW] ‘The Irishman’: Leave the Movie Take the Ingredients (Spoiler Free)”
Maybe I can just explain quickly what I got from it. A regular guy groomed by 2 big mafiosos to essentially get comfortable with doing their bidding. When one goes against the bidding of what is required, he has to be taken out, by his regular guy that he helped created and the controversy that exists in Frank’s mind on having done this. His daughter knew it was him. he lost his family and so much more. I dunno..maybe I do love mafia/mob movies all too much, and while I agree with you that it didn’t need all that time, I still really loved it. and that’s okay..that’s why we read other people’s reviews to see what EVERYBODY gets to think about it. 🙂 well written and explained review I will say.
Thanks so much for sharing your take. I guess that conflict felt a little too late for me but I know many took that from it so I understand. The thing with his daughter was weird. Was Hoffa molesting her? There were times their relationship seemed very weird and made me uncomfortable
of course, sometimes I read someone’s review that differs from mine and I can see it in a different light or understand why they are feeling what they are. Just so you know, I totally understand your feelings even though they differ from mine! 🙂 As for the daughters relationship with Hoffa.. no on the molesting – but if you remember Frank’s other ‘mentor’ Bufalino (Joe Pesci) tried so hard to connect and be friends with Frank’s kids..she just couldn’t – but Hoffa, she related to right away and took to him and it bothered not only Frank, but Bufalino. Let’s just say she could read people really well as kids do at times, and never trusted either her dad or Bufalino, but she did Hoffa. It’s kinda how like I like kids..but not all kids. hahaha
I dont know. It seemed like more than that to me but you certainly could be right. It was strange choice to me. But yeah always interesting to hear all views
Where did you get the idea that he was molesting her? Did you pay any attention to the movie? Peggy was afraid of Frank and couldnt go to him about her problems. Frank was violent and showed little to no emotions compared to Hoffa. It is pretty clear that Peggy looked up to Jimmy and considered him a father figure, she even made her school presentation about him rather than her father.
Its sad if seeing a child have a wholesome and healthy relationship with an older person makes you uncomfortable, but that is absolutely normal in almost every country in the world. Unfortunately America is the exception where that is seen as creepy or weird. Hopefully that changes in the future.
I felt it was more than just a normal child/adult relationship. And I was bringing it up to discuss with my friend. I didn’t include it in the review because I am far from decided that that’s what was happening
You are right. A boring bloated pretentious film . All this talk about the film being about mortality and regret and the price one pays for a life of crime . Isn’t St Marty a little late to the party . What does he think the Godfather films especially the third one was all about.
Thanks! I just feel like that message is such a footnote in the overall film and not dealt with until the very end of a long movie. I was honestly surprised when people said that was the message
In the end, Frank regretted that his daughter wouldn’t speak to him, but he was not contrite, which is why the priest could not hear his confession, which requires an expression of contrition (even if it’s fudged!).
I didnt know about those rules but it makes sense. I didnt see much regret from him. Just a soldier who followed orders
You are spot on with your review of The Irishman. I was also taken aback by how many old white men are in this movie and how very few strong female characters there were. I guess because it’s Marty he gets a pass. Incredibly self indulgent and long.
Thank you! I guess most mob movies are primarily male oriented but I just think the major message of regret is such a footnote
One of the most deathly boring movies, I totally agree with you Rachel. I see a lot of art movies, but this one was really difficult to watch. So many confusing unnecessary pointless scenes, with no real intention to build towards the bigger picture. I am thankful in the willful chest thumping and declaration as masterpiece, one honest voice stood out. Thanks.
I wish I had read this review before my wife and I threw away 3 hrs and 39 minutes of our lives. I can’t for the life of me figure out how anyone thought this was a good movie, let alone a great one.
Stupid long, for the most part, boring and slow. The most hyped part – the CGI un-aging of Pesci, DeNiro, and Pacino – wasn’t all that good. Their faces look a lot like Tom Hank’s face in “The Polar Express” – flat, not quite 3D and taut, like someone who had too much botox.
Now, you may be able to give their faces a youthful look, but their bodies, their movements and their speech were still those of 70-80-year-old men. When playing younger men, in their 40’s, they still had the old man shuffle, crooked elbows, hunched shoulders and flat feet – no spring in their steps. Their voices had that slightly slurred, two-drink sound, raspy and breathy like, well, old men. For me, gangster guys in movies need to have an intimidating physical presence. A certain unspoken but palpable menace to their personality. None of these guys, at 75+ years of age, had it.
Add in the story was way too long and far too involved for the tale to be told, and in the end, we just thought, “this is a bad movie.”
Well said Michael, you saved me alot of typing 🙂 Maybe I had too high expectation for the film given the hype surrounding it but I pulled the plug 90 minutes in. The “ageing” effect to me was very unnatural & jarring. Deniro & Pachino were excellent to a point but could have been transposed into any other of their good films… They played exactly the same parts before.. at times Deniro looked like he was in “Meet the Fokers” again 🙂
Its an ok film but should have been alot more.
Perhaps people who are not steeped in Marty’s films may find this momentous, but as someone who has watched all of the mob movies over and over again for years, I was disappointed. The characters were flat, the pacing self-important, and ultimately, I just couldn’t care that much about these people. The mega trio of actors seemed to be parodying themselves; with painful mugging from De Niro, the usual chewing up of the scenery by Pacino and the ominous threat of Pesci that never really delivers. Ray Liotta’s performance is just as vivid today as when you first saw it, so many years ago. I don’t see anything in this movie that would rival that and be as memorable.
I agreed with almost everything you said here. I can’t believe other critics don’t see these flaws. The seem to be pretty obvious on first viewing. The film obviously does have some very good stuff in it, but the problems detailed in the review are stark. I’m not sure how they’re just being ignored. Thank you for writing an honest and objective assessment here. I was beginning to think I was going insane or had seen a different movie. My only possible explanation for the rapturous reviews is that they’re watching this as an end to a cinematic arc of mobster movies and are in love with what it says in that meta sense because when you evaluate what’s actually on the screen taking this specific movie on its own, it’s hard to see how it’s anything but underwhelming.
Thanks Tom. I think people just like different stuff. We’ll see once the hype has died down if they still think it’s a masterpiece but it takes all types! I notice with many films that I’m on the outside on after a bit more see it my way. Like I was alone in not liking Birdman a while back but just saw a thread today where many agreed with just my points
A Digital Disaster. A Directorial Dredge of fossils. The actors are so aged that I couldn’t tell if it was make up, CGI or clean face. These actors were portraying people that are at least 30 years younger. Without getting into Film Theory, the acting was so bad: De Niro was… “De Niro” with the smug incredulous grin. Pesci did a weak (really weak) parody of himself. Romano was… Ramona: flat as raccoon on the 401. Pacino: over the top as usual. Doing the Scent of a Women shtick. Laughable. The character development: what was the point of the females in the script/ narrative? Cigarette addiction? Daddy issues? Who was the first wife of whoever and who was the second. Convoluted Crap. Driving around the Great Lakes to go to Detroit. What a mess. For me to sum it up:a really bad, and lazy attempt (not of a Goodfellas or Casino) but The Godfather. The Jews, the era, the cars, the lake, the bullet shots to the head, the assassination in the Italian restaurant, Cuba, bad boy Italians etc. This one should be up for a Razzie. I may watch it again, but only to throw toast.
LOL. A directorail dredge. Such alliteration! I didnt mention the uselessness of most of the women but you’re absolutely right. They are there just to smoke a lot? Weird
You missed some BIG FAILS on this movie.
For a director who proclaims the most popular movies aren’t “cinema,” we get his labor of love that is not MODERN cinema. It’s 2019, not 1979. The female roles were… well, there weren’t any. Background characters or a pissed off daughter who doesn’t say 8 words. Let’s not even get into the lack of minority characters, although for an all-white union/mob world, not much to do about that. (Other than, maybe, don’t make the movie?) The women are total afterthoughts. It’s just male macho reinforcement. Goodfellas at least tried, on that front; this didn’t even pretend to.
On top of that, I think you undersell the problem with the characters. Why should we care about ANY of them? Hoffa doesn’t change. Frank doesn’t change. No one changes; they only die, or they get old and die. There is no character development, nothing to learn from this. There is no saving grace to Frank, no reason we should care about him or root for him, nor feel sorry for him. And if you want to root against him, he dies of old age — hardly a satisfying punishment for his lifestyle.
I suspect Scorsese thinks the message is, these men chose lives of crime and suffered for it emotionally in the long run. Well, for those of you contemplating a life in the mob, there, let that be a lesson to you. For the 99.9999% of the rest of us, it’s not a really relevant message, is it.
And the irony of him recently mocking Marvel movies … when he could only make this movie using Marvel de-aging technology… that shouldn’t be lost on anyone either.
I don’t think directors get credit any more for beautiful time-pieces. Roma, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… it’s been done, and recently. Modern tech allows recreation of settings from decades ago. He had a bloated budget and 12 years to make the film, of course it’s beautiful. Those are no saving graces to a poorly-conceived pointless disposition about immoral men with no redeeming qualities engaged in pointless violence.
That’s a good point of him using Marvel deaging technology. Ha. I guess the female part didnt bother me because nearly all mob movies dont develop the women well. Kay in Godfather is about as good as you get. I think any life can lead to introspection but the problem with Frank is his regret comes so late in the movie. It’s not like Salieri in Amadeus where from the very beginning he is wrecked with guilt over his treatment of Mozart. With Frank he tells us he’s a soldier and he treats his mob orders that way. No emotional conflict so it’s flat.
Anyway great comment and points. Thanks
I had to seek out reviews to see how many others had the same experience I did with the Irishman. I was really surprised how few negative reviews there were, given that there was a 50/50 split in our household. My wife lost interest around 80-90 minutes in, and began looking at Pinterest on her phone while I was content to continue to engage in the meditation that is this movie. When I asked her if she had lost interest she basically said there wasn’t anything developing in this story and so much was being shown that didn’t seem to lend anything to moving the story (or the characters) forward. I saw the same scenes and felt like I was staring at an interesting painting on a gallery wall in which I saw something interesting that just didn’t hold the same interest for her. I was content to stop and continue to stare at the painting and meditate on the image and experience the mood it evoked. She lost interest much sooner and was ready to move on to more eye-catching things available to see. I strongly suspect this will be a common theme in many Netflix viewing households. You don’t have to love it or hate it, but odds are that if everyone is honest about what they feel about this movie, many will be content to indulge in giving 3&1/2 hours of their lives over to this meditation while many others will find they prefer to take a look and move on to other, more dynamic options before 3&1/2 hours have passed.
Rachel an excellent review and brave as well given the ‘mob’ mentality around this film with numerous calls of masterpiece. I do disagree on one point, however. The de-ageing just didn’t work for me. I thought it looked strange and it took me out of the film.
Thank you so much. I was afraid the mob would come (which has happened in the past) but I’ve got to be honest as a critic. As far as the visuals I wonder if seeing on the big screen helped with that? I’m not sure. Interesting