A good ninety minutes including a great thirty minutes… plus two hours of indulgent padding.
A man of flexible morals, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a union delivery man making side money from merchandise that “falls off his truck.” When rep Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano) helps get theft charges against him dropped, Frank is formally introduced to Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a connected man. After doing favors in gratitude and being rewarded, his break into the New York City labor-union crime family comes from a willingness and aptitude for removing obstacles… permanently. Frank’s rise eventually brings him into the employ of Chicago’s Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) as he’s being targeted by the U.S. government. Hoffa’s disappearance in July 1975 weighs heavily upon Frank in his declining years… as the last living person who knew exactly what happened.
Since Taxi Driver, director Martin Scorsese goes way back with actor Robert De Niro, but the director has also made a career of famed mafia movies from Goodfellas to Casino. His experiments have been hit and miss, from Leonardo DeCaprio’s The Aviator to Shutter Island and even The Last Temptation of Christ. As a champion of cinema, however, it seemed an odd choice to co-finance his Jimmy Hoffa epic with streaming-service Netflix, but will the famed director have anything left to say about organized crime after over-stuffing a three-and-half-hour epic starring every known Italian actor he could muster?
Although Hoffa stories are most often fodder for television biopics and true crime shows, The Irishman unfolds like Scorsese trying to out-runtime Quentin Tarantino, complete with overlong swaths of pointless-if-amusing conversation. In all fairness, this is usually a ploy to lull viewers into complacency just before an explosive action sequence or event that alters the narrative, (read: someone’s death). Removing those elements, sadly, leaves viewers with the retreaded framework of 1995’s Casino, from aged character narrative recollections right down to the car-bomb hesitations. In between is endless exposition desperate for editing, the worst offense being a forty-minute plus denouement which was far-better summed up in the final scene with a line of discarded dialog.
It isn’t hard to wonder if the director was trying to win a bet on how long he could get away with making the film’s length. Diehard mafioso and Scorcese fans will eat up the narrative and hang on every syllable, but even casual audiences will recognize the same beats. Ninety minutes or even two hours would have been plenty to get the story across, trimmed to the bone and still meaty enough to chew on. The current edit, unfortunately, sits until the meal is cold, stewing in its own juices until it becomes almost unappetizing. It’s been said director Tarantino needs a “no-man” in the editing room; perhaps he could loan his out to Marty?
De Niro plays Frank as stoic as you’d think, while Al Pacino plays Jimmy Hoffa like the brother of Lt. Col. Frank Slade from Scent of a Woman. Anna Paquin has an unusual role as the older incarnation of a character without a single spoken line heard, and that’s perfect. The rest of the cast is a who’s who of earlier Scorsese crime films, but even Joe Pesci seems like he’s there for the check. Because this kind of film is so effortless for this group, maybe this assessment isn’t fair, but it’d be nice if Marty could finally close the book on mobsters and start coming up with the next The Aviator… or maybe direct a Phase 4 film for Disney’s Marvel called “Mobster-Man.”
The Irishman is rated R for pervasive language, strong violence, and an endless denouement.
Two skull recommendation out of four
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