The Irishman review: Martin Scorsese is almost back to his best in mobster drama

The Irishman follows the life of Frank Sheeran, (played by Robert De Niro) the quiet, subtle driver who, as he alleges in his biography ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ turns into a mob hitman. He even claims to be responsible for so many incredibly high profile deaths, including that of Joe ‘Crazy Joe’ Gallo, whose death wracked havoc on the mafia.

Though Frank’s version of events has been the subject of some scrutiny, the film takes us through his time working as the middle man between the mob and the unions; a story which jumps into different points in the timeline.

The audience meets Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) a renowned ‘fixer’ whose mild mannered nature makes him a favourite of gangsters, unlike one of his cohorts Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) who is a little more intimidating, especially when his own interests are compromised.

Soon enough, Sheeran is introduced to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) the head of the Teamsters union who is charismatic, principled and full of life – except when it comes to his relations with the mob – where he becomes frantic, hotheaded and stubborn as a mule.

Over time, the pair grow close and eventually Sheeran’s loyalties are torn as he tries to help his hotheaded friend keep his nose clean with the gangsters, while also maintaining a close bond to those who helped him grow up in the business.

The relationship between Hoffa and Sheeran, and Sheeran and Bufalino, is what really holds the film together; despite clearly being conflicted about how to act, Sheeran is still brutal in carrying out his duty no matter what it costs him.

As Frank ages, those costs comes back around as those around him disappear through various means, and we see that a life spent following orders and keeping others happy does not mean he is happier himself.

The final shot brings this home in dosplaying how brutal time has been on the man, perhaps in exchange for his own misdeeds.

While we will never know the truth behind many of the crimes Sheeran has claimed, one thing is for sure: the wages for sin in this story is loneliness, abandonment and a hollow existence once those around you fade away.

Al Pacino steals the film as Hoffa. He is full of energy, giving speeches in full vigour and clearly trying to disguise his actual age when portraying the younger man – knowing that the de-ageing CGI can not take you the whole way.

His voice is slightly higher when he is younger, he seems more spritely, until he gets older when the gruff, Pacino drawl returns in full force as the man’s obstinance threatens to tear him from the mob’s bosom and into the lions’ den.

However, sadly the same cannot be said for Robert De Niro, who did not entirely achieve the airs of the younger man, despite his CGI playing tricks with our minds.

In one scene in particular, his age is obvious when he violently beats up a greengrocer for shoving one of his children – an act which proves devastating for his relationship with his daughter.

It is clear this is not a 40-something De Niro doing this, which is to be expected, but it does mean the illusion created by the CGI does not work itself fully into the performance.

Keitel and Pesci are fantastic, though the former is criminally underused in this story, meaning the audience struggles to really care about what happens to them, as well as the characters well-played by Bobby Cannavale and Ray Romano.

Anna Paquin is similarly underused, and only gets a couple of lines thrown to her despite playing Frank’s middle daughter Peggy, whose presence is a constant reminder of the consequences of his actions.

In fact, none of the women get much to do at all in this film – and the wives are not even worth the expense of using CGI to age their faces – an example of how little the women play a role in this narrative.

Scorsese is truly a fantastic filmmaker and this film does not put that fact in any doubt: it is just a shame that, with the film bringing together some of the best actors in his ‘company’, that it did not deliver a little more emotional punch, peaks and troughs, and a better central performace.

The Irishman is out in cinemas on November 8 before being released on Netflix on November 27

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