The Irishman had its premiere Friday, September 27, as the opening for the New York Film Festival. Before the premiere in the evening, there was a press screening in the morning, which I was able to attend.
The buzz was clear as the press and industry filed into the beautiful Alice Tully Hall. This was a movie I had been anticipating for years, a mobster flic by the great Martin Scorsese spanning over six decades and starring three of the greatest actors of our time: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.
As the talk of the movie increased, so did my interest in it. And it was only elevated when I read the book upon which it was going to be based, I Hear You Paint Houses, by Charles Brandt.
Finally, I was at the theater for this film, and without much introduction, the Netflix logo came and went, and we were off on the adventure of the life of Frank Sheeran, the Irishman.
This movie was incredible, start to finish. It is a portrait of a man’s life and the relationships between him and his two best, most important friends (Buffalino, played by Pesci, and Hoffa, played by Pacino). At the heart of this film are human relationships and moral conflict.
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In a way, the soft-spoken but ruthless Buffalino is the dark side on one shoulder of Sheeran, and the loud yet sweet Hoffa is the angel on the other.
A representative of Sheeran’s conflict between being connected with the mob, and also Hoffa’s best friend and most avid supporter, is Sheeran’s daughter’s stoicism around Buffalino and warming-up around Hoffa.
The Irishman is a different film than the other Scorsese mobster movies. Spanning from the ’50s all the way to the early 2000s, The Irishman deals with real events that affected everyone in the country.
While most people will see the movie and not know who Frank Sheeran and Russell Buffalino are (and sadly the youth won’t know Jimmy Hoffa), the audience will still feel attached to events that took place in the world of our characters.
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There was the JFK assassination, Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters battles, and Nixon’s resignation all prevalent in the picture and if it didn’t directly affect us, it sure was in the world of our parents and grandparents.
This movie deals with a lot of the same things Goodfellas does. There are the mob introductions, the brutal slayings at a moment’s notice, and the understanding of the control and power of the mafia in the second half of the 20th century.
Still, this film has a lighter tone.
The dedication to becoming these real-life characters was clear with these three greats. Pacino had headphones in on set, purely listening to Jimmy Hoffa’s voice, his inflections, and his cadence. Joe Pesci reportedly refused to do this movie many times, until finally being convinced his involvement was vital to the picture.
JOE PESCI THE LEGEND pic.twitter.com/KR9gG12mH6
— karen han (@karenyhan) September 27, 2019
And DeNiro, who is practically in every scene, carries us through the decades and along the fantastic ride in a way no one else could.
There is one scene in particular that will become clear upon viewing, that shows DeNiro has not slowed down in his acting prowess with age, and I legitimately don’t know if another actor could have so delicately mastered the scene.
After the film was a press conference, where Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Emma Tillinger, and Jane Rosenthal spoke with NYFF director Kent Jones.
They spoke about how the idea for the film came to fruition, what shooting was like, and the de-aging technology crafted in the editing room. Emma Tillinger, film producer and frequent collaborator with Scorsese said:
“The technology did not slow us down.”
There are so many little reasons to love this movie. There are several celebrities who get small roles designed to produce laughs or point out something in the film. Even Action Bronson had to give thanks for being able to be a part of this legendary movie.
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There is Ray Romano playing a prominent and perfectly-cast role as Teamsters lawyer and cousin to Russell Buffalino. Plus, there are subtleties of actors with only a few lines, such as Anna Paquin, playing Sheeran’s daughter, that elevate this movie to heights that would not be achievable under a different director.
The Irishman felt less dark than other Scorsese movies. As an audience, we are brought into the inner sanctum of the mafia underworld, but there is still a level of detachment present.
Hoffa may have ties to the mob, but they are a means to an end; he does not go so far with his relationship with the mob that he is at their beck and call.
And practically speaking, in the ’50s and ’60s, there was rampant corruption in tons of organizations throughout the country. This is a way of saying that a lot of what we see throughout the bulk of the runtime is not gangster-struggles or ruthless racketeering.
It is Jimmy and Frank’s friendship, what it means to both of them, and how Jimmy, and because of his loyalty to him, Frank too, are well-meaning humans that are genuinely doing great work for families around the country.
Sheeran was introduced to Hoffa by Buffalino and is tied to both men with immense love for each, but eventually thrown into a conflict with which he is forced to make a decision. So heavy of a decision that Scorsese asks us: can one live with themselves after making it, one way or the other? During the press conference, Scorsese said:
“What we wanted to deal with was the nature of who we are as human beings. A love, a betrayal, guilt or no guilt, forgiveness or no forgiveness, all of this.”
Since Pacino, Pesci, and DeNiro are all in their late-70s, the de-aging technology that Scorsese used was highly-talked-about before the release of the film.
Instead of hiring younger actors, Scorsese sought the money that would allow him to make DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci younger. Netflix came along and allowed this to happen, and smartly, gave ultimate control to Scorsese to make the film in his absolute vision.
This is groundbreaking, because it can allow older actors to play parts they couldn’t in the past, and can prolong some of the great actors of our times’ careers.
The Irishman is a different film than other Scorsese greats, even his gangster films. The three and a half-hour runtime was over before I knew it, and I couldn’t help but want more. Ava DuVernay who was in attendance felt the same way.
Just out of THE IRISHMAN. Running time is 3 hours and some change. For me, it flew by. And if I could go in and see it again right now, I would in a heartbeat. A film made by a filmmaker who feels free. Who has all the tools. All the time. All the talent. And lives up to it. Wow. pic.twitter.com/gPsfn4OyS8
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) September 30, 2019
With this being Pacino and Pesci’s first film together, Scorsese’s first time directing Pacino, and Pesci’s first film of any kind in years, it is hard not to be grateful to be able to witness this great work of art.
These three extraordinary actors collaborating for a possible first-and-only time with the great Martin Scorsese produced a nearly-flawless film that will be studied and revered for years.