What if I told you about a film that's three-and-a-half hours long, stars three of our oldest and most important male actors that are digitally de-aged at various points, and tells a story about mobsters reflecting on their sins. I'm not sure how many people would raise their hand with excitement.
But as ludicrous at it sounds, "The Irishman" redefines what a gangster film can be.
Although his filmography is vast, Martin Scorcese is commonly referenced as the best gangster film director in American cinema history. Between "Goodfellas," "Mean Streets" and "Casino," he's lived in that world many times.
The Irishman, based on the book "I Heard You Paint Houses," tells the story of Frank Sheeran, a hitman in the Philadelphia mob who may have played a roll in the former union leader Jimmy Hoffa in the 1970s.
Robert DeNiro plays the titular Sheeran, who we first see in a nursing home. Sheeran narrates a good portion of the film, keeping his comments and observations brief and to the point. This film may seem to be excessive, with a long run time, but like Sheeran's narration the film doesn't have much to possibly trim.
We see Sheeran navigate life as a mob hitman, occasionally killing and intimidating, but the film doesn't glorify the violent acts. It's almost procedural. There are moments of explanation of why Sheeran would use this certain gun during this certain hit. It's not Joe Pesci's character in "Goodfellas" killing a fellow mobster on a whim because he was disrespected. Everything is planned.
Pesci returns to film after a hiatus as Sheeran's boss, Russell Bufalino. Don't expect Pesci to be bombastic. He's not. If he nods, a violent crime can be committed. Even when he has arguments with Hoffa (played by Al Pacino, who does the yelling for everyone), Bufalino's voice doesn't rise above Catholic speaking to a priest in confession.
Sheeran is the middle man throughout the decades spanning tale. First he's gaining favor with Bufalino. Next he's becoming Hoffa's right hand man. But the trio begins to crumble as Hoffa's actions become erratic, forcing Bufalino and other concerned mobsters to act.
As tempting as it seems, don't break up the film into multiple viewings. It's a fluid watch that doesn't dip in captivation. The final 90 minutes of the film are especially impressive because after two hours of storytelling you wonder how they'll land the plane.
Scorcese has done something remarkable with "The Irishman." At 77 years old, he' redefined a genre. DeNiro, Pesci and Pacino remind viewers why they're some of the greatest actors to grace the silver screen. The trio can convince you of their intentions with a glance.
"The Irishman" may be an important test subject for prestige films going into the 2020s. We'll see if "The Irishman" is remarked as a turning point for years to come.
"The Irishman" is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture.