[REVIEW] ‘The Irishman’: Leave the Movie Take the Ingredients (Spoiler Free)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Why I Hated Silence

silence2One of the myths I hear from time to time is that only a certain kind of movie can be a terrible film. That only the Norm of the Norths or Nut Jobs of the world can be awful. No, my friends. Glossy, well made movies can still be garbage. And at least for me Martin Scorsese’s passion project Silence was that kind of film. I hated Silence more than almost any film in recent memory. I was so close to walking out and I probably should have. Let me try and explain why…Spoilers ahead.

missionIt is perhaps helpful to give a little bit of my personal life experience in giving this review. After all, we can not completely separate our experiences from how we interpret a film. I served a mission for my church from 2003-2005 in Indianapolis, Indiana. While certainly nothing like what the fathers face in Silence it was intense in its own way. Separation of family and friends was challenging but what carried me through it was a love of the people I was serving and the message.

This is the biggest problem with Silence. Never once did I get a feeling from the priests that they loved the people or even the message that much. The Adam Driver character gives us a little bit of that and he dies for the people but this is such a small part of the movie. The scene that really made me the most angry was when Christian Japanese are tortured and even crucified the two priests literally watch from a distance and do nothing for 4 days!!! There is no way anyone of that kind of religious mission would do that. It felt totally cold and inauthentic to me. Even if staring is the wiser thing to do they wouldn’t do it. There’s just no way.

I never felt that Andrew Garfield’s character loved the people he was serving and that brings me to my next biggest problem. The main point of the film seemed to be that missionary work and faith is mostly ego. This is helped by the fact that no love is shown for the people and so the reason he doesn’t apostatize is all about him. His pride is more important than anything else. This is not like A Man for All Seasons where a man of faith refuses to deny what he knows is right.  We understood a communion between God and Thomas Moore in that film. He was doing that for the people. I never felt that here. Silence seemed like a real condemnation of those who have the ego to share their witness with others.

silenceAnd maybe that was what Scorsese was going for? As an active Catholic I don’t understand why he would want to send that message but whatever (I am completely baffled at why he would make this movie as his passion project). A cynical message is fine but does he have to ram it into our heads with a sledge hammer? This brings me to my next complaint. In my eyes the film is torture porn. We get scene after scene of brutal extended torture of Christians and for what? The priest doesn’t love these people so why do we need to see this repeatedly? Each time we see these scenes it only added to the condemnation of the priest for his selfish choices and ego.

If you look at a movie like The Mission they feel similar on its surface but that film was full of hope. The priests in that story loved and suffered with the people. This was just unending torture of Christians because a Western visitor wouldn’t let go of his pride. There was no hope. No sense of a communion with God to give strength or peace.  As the title would suggest, God is in fact silent throughout the film. Even if you don’t believe in God it defies credulity to accept that such a man would not hear God’s message and be strengthened by Him. There are moments where he talks to God but the silence is all the more damning.

Again if Scorsese was trying to make a film condemning religion and God that is one thing but he doesn’t even do that well. It’s just a repetitive slog that gets some kind of pleasure out of the torture of innocent people. This movie is almost 3 hours and for the life of me I will never understand what we are supposed to gain from these torture scenes. Exhaustion doesn’t begin to describe how I felt at them. I wanted to scream out at the screen- WHAT IS THIS ALL FOR!!!!

Who are these people? We don’t even know them.  All we know is they believed but why and what does it matter if our lead character doesn’t have a relationship with them? It’s literally just torture porn and where is the enlightenment there?

Did I mention the movie is almost 3 hours long? I LOVE long movies. I recently saw Lawrence of Arabia and was completely engrossed with the amazing characters and story. I love Ben Hur, Boyhood, 10 Commandments and many other long films. But there is long and there are movies that feel long. Like I said this is just a repetitive slog that wallows in the worst of human nature.

The movie does  look nice but the whole time I kept feeling like saying ‘we get it. You like Kurosawa. Move on…” It was so obviously aping the films of the Japanese master that it became annoying. Kurosawa made long films but his characters were deep with a clear focus to why they needed to be in the film. For example, Katsushirō in Seven Samurai has layers to his character we never see in Father Rodrigues. Not even close.

When he does finally apostatize he immediately becomes an agent against the Christians, which is not surprising since he never seemed to love them to begin with. Again, it was all about his pride not his faith, which with the torture shown makes him a completely awful person. He is told apostatizing is just a formality but clearly it is not because I never got the sense that he got much hope or peace from God to begin with. Yes, I understand he is buried with a cross but that doesn’t mean he was a believer or someone who showed his belief by LOVING THE PEOPLE! Faith should be love. Faith should be hope.

You could make the claim that Father Rodrigues is a martyr for the faith but like I said with the Thomas Moore example I never felt he had an conviction or testimony beyond the mere reciting of scripture from time to time. If he believes through the end of his life than show some degree of hope or peace or something from that belief. It’s not enough to just have a cross in your hand. FAITH WITHOUT HOPE IS NOTHING!!!  How can Scorsese fail to realize this? If faith can’t give you light in dark times than what good is it?

It was at best about a man abandoned by God, which could be a compelling narrative but not one I need to see combined with the torture of Christians for 3 hours…

As I watched the movie my anger grew bit by bit but I kept hoping there would be some kind of redemption for the characters and movie. Alas, it never did and I was just left having a miserable experience. I just can’t overstate how much I hated it. It was manipulative, unfeeling, exploitative junk.

If you liked it than more power to you. This is my blog and I did not.

Overall Grade- F

Also it has some of the worst bald caps I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is nice but very repetitive and derivative of other films. Nothing too spectacular. Ugh..this movie!