The chatter around The Irishman has mostly involved Martin Scorsese shit-talking Marvel and/or how Netflix stepped up to fund a three-and-a-half-hour epic after traditional Hollywood studios told Marty to fuck off. None of that is as interesting as The Irishman itself. A reality-inspired crime epic that spans decades, The Irishman’s heart is Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who “paints houses” for big-shot gangsters; his paint, it should be noted, only comes in blood red. Sheeran’s main employer/benefactor/BFF is the intense, sharp-eyed Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), though once Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) enters the picture, Frank’s torn between the sometimes clashing demands of two hard-willed, charismatic men.
De Niro’s great (and, thankfully, the distracting, de-aging CGI fades into the background after a while), but this is Pesci and Pacino’s movie: With mania and fury, Pacino rips every scene apart, while Pesci takes a different approach, subtly and slowly building an aging crime boss who’s both heart-achingly soulful and blood-chillingly brutal. Seeing Scorsese masterfully track all this harkens back to Goodfellas and Casino, but the jarring, moving The Irishman is, remarkably, better than both. While the intense focus on Frank & Pals comes at the expense of other characters, like every single woman (Anna Paquin plays the most prominent one, with maybe three lines of dialogue), the end result is still stunning: A saga that’s horrifying and funny and melancholy, sometimes in different scenes, sometimes all at once.
The Irishman is now playing at the Hollywood Theatre and streams on Netflix Wed Nov 27.