The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
London Film Festival closed yesterday in great style, bringing the reunion of De Niro and Martin Scorsese, who haven't worked together since Casino in 1995. The Irishman is a mature film, by a mature filmmaker, aiming for a more mature audience. So, if you are expecting the long-time collaborators to replicate what they had been doing at the beginning of their careers, you will be disappointed. Scorsese justifies his choices: "It wouldn't be enriching in any way".
That said, the "simple story about a guy who was caught between two people who were powerful people and one of them was disappeared" may shake you. De Niro's logline summarises the relation between Frank Sheeran (De Niro), Russel Bufalino (Joe Pesci, who quit retirement momentaneously for the movie) and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). All the characters are real people. Their background lives are marked by "dark forces that take over", explains the filmmaker. On one level, you have the killings of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and missiles coming from Cuba, "and these guys are right in the middle of it". But what really matters in The Irishman is to tell Frank's tale.
In his 80s thanks to a CGI effect that de-aged the actor without the use of heavy helmets, Frank Sheeran lives in a shelter for old people. He is surrounded by other peaceful elderlies and a nurse who ignores who were his famous pals back in a day. The camera finds Frank sitting in a living room and it seems that now is the time to reveal his secrets, his commitment to the American Mafia, his killings and his regrets.
As the story is told from the point of view of an old man, Scorsese prefers to focus on Frank's attachments, affections, and memories, rather than on the crime scenes. Comparing to Mean Streets (1973) and The Goodfellas (1990), The Irishman moves slower and there is less blood. This is probably the greatest achievement in Martin Scorsese's filmography. The Irishman speaks deeply showing the details of a gas station, whilst Frank's mind leads us in a flashback to the moment he met Russel. The reverberation of a shotgun is, in fact, louder than the shot itself. The reverberation of a phone call conversation in which Frank chooses to lie is, in fact, louder than the deed itself.
Indeed the feature is long, and yet Scorsese had shrunk the narrative to what is essential. Some of the editing choices he made right there on set. We can see clearly that the story focuses on one of Frank's daughter, Peggy Sheeran, but we are not told why at the start. She fancies Hoffa but doesn't trust Bufalino. In other words, Scorsese is telling us to pay attention to a child's reaction and natural instincts.
In opposition to the young's naivety, The Irishman brings to the screen a classic theme, mortality. Not only Frank, but all male characters are aging and realising that they are losing control and power. Obviously, as toxic Mafiosi, they don't react well to it. How could they? It's what it is.
The Irishman opens in cinemas on November 8th and is released on Netflix on November 27th.