It’s been a long road to completion for Martin Scorsese in trying to adapt Charles Brandt’s book, I Heard You Paint Houses – though not as long as his 28-year struggle to get Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 theological fictitious novel, Silence, made into a film. But now, The Irishman has finally arrived onto the big screen… or small screen if you choose to wait until it’s released on Netflix on 27 November.
What could be described as another one of Scorsese’s ‘passion projects’, The Irishman boasts a plethora of commendable qualities before the film has even begun. It’s the ninth time Scorsese and Robert De Niro have collaborated, while it’s Scorsese’s first time directing Al Pacino, and it sees Goodfellas legend Joe Pesci quit retirement to play mafioso Russell Bufalino. It’s also written by Steven Zaillian, who won an Academy Award for his Schindler’s List screenplay. That’s quite a reputable bunch of filmmakers The Irishman has attached.
The film follows the story of World War II veteran Frank ‘the Irishman’ Sheeran (De Niro), a hustler-hitman who worked with some of the 20th century’s most notorious figures in the post-war America organised crime scene. In short, The Irishman is a three-and-a-half-hour-long masterclass of a film which weaves its entangling storylines together as effortlessly as a needle guides its thread. With so many narratives going on at once, and each of the principal actors looking a different age at various points (thanks to de-aging technology), it’s a considerable achievement that The Irishman’s structure is so clear yet so cleverly intertwined.
The extensive use of de-aging technology has paid off to significant degrees in Scorsese’s latest. This is truly the most extensive and meticulously detailed utilisation of the digital effect to date. De Niro, Pacino (as union leader Jimmy Hoffa) and Pesci are all equally convincing as their younger selves, though admittedly, it was rather amusing at one point watching what was meant to be a 30-or-so-year-old De Niro beat up another man with obvious elderly mannerisms.
The three principal actors provide marvellous performances, supported by a similarly notable supporting cast, but it’s the exquisitely exposited relationships between each and every character that makes The Irishman click. With such a lengthy run-time, Scorsese is able to delve deep into his story, sacrificing nothing in his ambition to portray the depth of these characters to the audience.
Over the course of the film, empathy towards these morally ambiguous individuals only increases, which is a staple characteristic of most of Scorsese’s films. Here though, it’s something unlike anything he’s ever done before; in allowing these actors to play their characters through their entire on-screen lives, it reinforces the honest, refined journey Scorsese is presenting. It’s also worth noting that The Irishman‘s script is very funny; it has a certain warm yet dry humour to it, and it saves some moments to take a few stabs at controversial modern figures.
Luxurious and grand, Martin Scorsese’s 24th film is nothing short of cinematic liquid gold. The Irishman is a slow-burning, immersive spectacle of a film which never feels as long as its 210-minute run-time at all; if anything, it’s easy to wish it had been longer. But as Frank so poignantly notes, “you don’t know how fast time goes by until you get there,” and with The Irishman, you can only treasure every second of it.