By Megan Bianco
The star-studded character study of a man who goes from being a truck driver to one of the most in-demand hitmen for the Philadelphia mafia is very familiar territory for Martin Scorsese. We’ve seen this rise-and-fall story already in the director’s classics GoodFellas (1990) and Casino (1995). And yet, it took almost a decade to find a studio to make a third addition with Neflix’s The Irishman.
My theory is that while the first two in this series were flashy and exciting, The Irishman is slow and melancholy. Scorsese and his team are a lot older now, and taking their time to tell this East Coast story. The tone and atmosphere almost feel like a swan song for the director and cast, even though — as far as I know — no one involved is retiring.
Set initially in the 1950s, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a straightforward family man working for a successful trucking company. But things take a turn when he’s accused of stealing from the company. Union lawyer Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano) successfully gets him off the hook and introduces Frank to his cousin Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci).
Russ is the head of the underworld mob in Philly and thinks Frank would be a good addition to the crime family. From decade to decade, we see the Irish-American gangster become close to Russ and his team, and also become good friends with controversial union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Things get even more complicated when it becomes apparent Russ and Jimmy don’t care for each other, and Frank’s oldest daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin, with a grand total of two lines of dialogue) is disgusted with his life choices.
Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Jack Huston, Jesse Plemons and Stephen Graham are some more of the recognizable faces featured in the cast. The Irishman is actually credited on screen with its original title: I Heard You Paint Houses, which is also the title of the non-fiction book by Charles Brandt that the script is based on.
To discuss Scorsese’s talent and success at this point would be redundant. We know he can make a quality film with barely any flaw. But what could be emphasized a little more is just how much the man loves film. At over three hours, it is mesmerizing to see him and his regulars like De Niro, Pesci, Keitel, screenwriter Steven Zaillian and editor Thelma Schoonmaker work together one last time. It’s predictable, but seeing the 1970s film stars all share the same screen and play off each other remains a complete thrill.
Those going in expecting GoodFellas Pt. 2 should probably be aware that while it’s all the usual names and plot points we remember from classic gangster pieces, it’s still a very downbeat, bleak journey. GoodFellas ended with Henry entering the witness protection program, but still high off the adrenaline the mob life gave him. This isn’t the case with Frank’s ending.
It could be because of the different narratives, or because Scorsese is now wiser than he was 30 years ago. But if there was ever a movie that could not be accused of glamorizing the mafia, it’s The Irishman.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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