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The Screen Scene: Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

From the opening shot of The Irishman, we know that Martin Scorsese has made a very different type of gangster film. There’s no camera spinning wildly through a brightly lit casino while a nasty riff from the Rolling Stones plays on the soundtrack.

There’s no long tracking shot capturing the glitz and the glamour of the Copacabana on a Saturday night. The Irishman begins with a long tracking shot that glides through the hallways of … a nursing home.

If Goodfellas and Casino were about the quest for power and respect in the criminal underworld, The Irishman explores the emptiness of what remains after you’ve lived a life of crime and managed not to get killed in the process.

Throughout the film, captions pop up on the screen when we’re introduced to various minor characters. The captions tell the audience when and how that person will be killed in the future. By the end of The Irishman, you may think these murder victims were the lucky ones.

Scorsese often looks to true stories and real historical figures as the source material for his films. From boxer Jake Lamotta in Raging Bull to sleazy investment banker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese understands that fact is stranger, and often more interesting, than fiction.

The Irishman is the story of Frank Sheeran, a WWII vet who ultimately became a hitman for the mob. Sheeran’s claim to fame, or maybe infamy, is that he killed labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, and that series of events forms the central plot of the film.

The cast is filled with the usual acting suspects. Robert Deniro plays Frank Sheeran. Al Pacino plays Jimmy Hoffa. And, in my favorite performance of the film, Joe Pesci plays Sheeran’s boss, Russell Bufalino. The film is a master class in acting from three of the best in the business.

It’s hard for me to believe that this is the first time Al Pacino has ever worked with Martin Scorsese. It took 76 years, but it was worth the wait. Don’t be surprised if one or more of them takes home an Oscar in February.

The Irishman is 3 ½ hours long, but please don’t let the runtime scare you away. The film moves along briskly, and I never found myself looking at my watch. And I urge you to watch it in a single sitting. The movie develops a great sense of momentum that really pays off during its third act.

So, try not to break it up into multiple viewing sessions. Seasoned Netflix subscribers binge-watch entire seasons of television shows in a single day so watching The Irishman in an afternoon or evening should be a piece of cake.

The Irishman is like the final installment in an informal gangster trilogy that began with Goodfellas in 1991. The middle installment was Casino in 1995. And 24 years later, The Irishman brings us Scorsese’s final look at the Italian-American underworld. It’s an amazing film that caps off a stunning career in film that spans over 50 years.

I give The Irishman 5 out of 5 popcorn buckets. It’s streaming now on Netflix.

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