‘The Irishman’ captures the essence of Scorsese’s movie magic
“The Irishman” is the movie Martin Scorcese has been destined to make.
Not only does this masterpiece tell an epic story worthy of the big screen, the film captures the essence of what makes Scorcese such a magical moviemaker. This opening selection of this year’s New York Film Festival again demonstrates Scorcese’s fascinating ability to capture the emotional layers that define why people lean into crime. As he has so many times in the past, Scorcese uses his camera to surround us with the conflicts his characters experience as they debate what they know to be right and wrong.
From its captivating opening moments, “The Irishman” takes us inside the memories of Frank Sherran, an observer and participant in all things criminal as a key part of the entourage encircling Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters president who mysteriously disappeared in 1975. Using Frank as narrator, and playing in stunning flashback, Scorcese builds his puzzle one piece at a team, letting us thoughtfully absorb the agendas and egos as Frank ascends through the ranks in the underworld, ultimately landing at Hoffa’s side. The moviemaker takes the time to develop this complex relationship - that extends to Frank’s daughter - while adding narrative texture by developing other pivotal characters in the conflict. Like the best of opera, Scorcese gives each character a moment to reveal before returning to that complex puzzle he builds over three and a half hours.
No matter how many times Scorcese has visited organized crime on screen, “The Irishman” does not play as a recap of the director’s greatest hits. His craftsmanship actually hits a career high with his magical use of a digital de-aging process to enable his actors, now senior citizens off screen, to effectively convey younger versions of their characters from the 1950s through the 1970s. But the software is not the star; Scorcese makes sure his camera forever captures the magic that Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and, especially, Joe Pesci create on screen. Regardless of the special effects that may enhance what we see, these actors, working at the peak of their craft, make us believe every moment they share.
The movie offers many moments to memorize, from the exaggerated exclamations as Pacino tries to hang on to the power he craves to the touching exchanges as DeNiro and Pesci work through the realities of the lives they choose. Nearly 30 years after securing a spot in movie history for his work in “Goodfellas” and “Home Alone,” Pesci came out of retirement to bring every degree of intensity we cherish about this actor, carefully maneuvering from a one-dimensional caricature in early scenes to a tortured soul who can’t imagine life without position.
Ultimately, “The Irishman” will be remembered as the ultimate Scorcese take on an underworld that has fascinated his camera for almost 50 years. As in all of his classic films, Scorcese uses his camera to examine how far people can reach inside to rationalize almost any actions they take. Perhaps more than any other moviemaker, he unlocks the secrets of how people can decide to do mean things to preserve pride, family and a sense of honor. And he makes it all wonderfully entertaining.
Film Nutritional Value: The Irishman
Content: High. Martin Scorcese’s monumental underworld epic creates an unforgettable world that sustains 3-1/2 hours of movie.
Entertainment: High. Thanks to Scorcese’s command of a camera, and sterling performances, the movie beautifully captures multiple layers of emotional truth.
Message: High. Because of the way Scorcese tells the story, and the power of the visuals, the film offers a strong message of the debate over right and wrong.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what prompts people to make life.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. From the characters to the visuals to the magical way Scorcese tells a story, “The Irishman” offers you and your older children a lot to talk about, on the screen and in your own family. But it is not a family film.
“The Irishman” is rated R for “pervasive language and strong violence.” The film runs 3 hours, 29 minutes. It is available in select theaters before debuting on Netflix on Nov. 27.