Gangsters also become anonymous old grouches if they accidentally outlive their extremely hazardous profession. With The Irishman, Martin Scorsese improves on all his gangster films.
In his dotage, Martin Scorsese has gone back to picturing gangsters instead of Jesuits who want to Christianize Japan (Silence) or stockbrokers with more Quaaludes in their bodies than scruples (The Wolf of Wall Street). For the first time since Casino (1995), he has teamed up again with the star of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull: Robert De Niro. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a protégé of both the mob godfather Russell Bufalino and the notorious union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who was hounded by the Kennedys. Sheeran was a ruthless, unflinching, and very busy hitman, but the escalating conflict between the corrupt Hoffa and the mafia ultimately forced him to commit treason.
The flamboyant Hoffa is a character that allows Pacino to be deliciously dramatic. But the best performance is from Joe Pesci, who has returned from retirement to play the sly, always controlled Bufalino. The film spans several decades centred around the 1970s and because the average age of the three lead actors is 77, Scorsese asked the specialists at ILM (Star Wars) to youthify them digitally. This technology cost so much money that only the streaming giant Netflix was prepared to finance the film. The youthification is neither a catastrophe nor a success. Stiff joints don't lie.
Fortunately, Scorsese keeps you riveted for three and a half hours. One excellent novelty is that for each new supporting character, he provides text explaining how and when he died. Crime doesn't pay. Sheeran manages to survive long enough to move into a retirement home, only to realize that he is alone and that time (and his crimes) have mercilessly caught up with him. The masterful coda reinforces Scorsese's thesis that his fascination for gangsters does not amount to glorification. The Irishman is inevitable for anyone who enjoyed Goodfellas, Casino, or Mean Streets.
THE IRISHMAN > US, dir.: Martin Scorsese, act.: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin