Robert De Niro stars in The Irishman.
Robert De Niro stars in The Irishman. Supplied

Scorsese's epic, luxurious Netflix movie is out now

If you give Martin Scorsese a mobster story, you know you're going to get something compelling, textured and extremely watchable.

Even when that something is three-and-a-half hours long.

The Irishman, Scorsese's latest epic, drops on Netflix today after a limited run in a few independent cinemas these past few weeks.

For some, the ability to spread out The Irishman over a few nights will be appealing - and if you are going to do that, know that there are narrative transition points around the one hour and 10 minutes mark and the two hours and 20 minutes mark if you want to pause and go back to it later.

While The Irishman will feel its full runtime, it's really only in the final stretch that you'll start itching.

The Irishman is Scorsese’s first gangster movie since The Departed.
The Irishman is Scorsese’s first gangster movie since The Departed.

True Scorsese fans will want to eat it up in one go - and he gives you plenty of reasons to. The Irishman is an engrossing and meticulously crafted story, anchored by its performances from old hands like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

Everything about The Irishman screams event, a cinematic work of art to luxuriate in. The cast list along is something to scream about - De Niro, Pacino, Joe freaking Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons and Ray Romano.

The Irishman is based on the supposed true story of Frank Sheehan (Robert De Niro), a "heavy" working for an Italian mobster family, the Bufalinos.

From selling them cut-price stolen prime beef to casually plugging a few slugs in the heads of enemies, Frank is an asset for a group that has few qualms about murder.

 

The Irishman is a textured period movie
The Irishman is a textured period movie

 

Frank is also a union man in powerful Teamsters union and he's tasked by his boss and patron Russell Bufalino (Pesci) to help out infamous union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

Hoffa, you may know, disappeared in 1975, having spent a controversial career linked to organised crime and politics. His fate remains one of the great mysteries of 20th century American history alongside what happened to Amelia Earhart and who was D.B. Cooper.

Before his death in 2003, Sheehan claimed to have been involved in Hoffa's disappearance. That is not widely known but it's known enough that the tension and stakes in The Irishman doesn't come from what will happen to Hoffa but rather how the relationship between the union man and the mafia broke down so irrevocably.

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Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa

 

More importantly, it aims to track the emotional journey of a man like Frank, taciturn and loyal to a fault, but torn between two warring factions.

This is perhaps where The Irishman falls short. Because Frank is such a repressed character, his emotions aren't written all over his face, so the film periodically ties it to his relationship with one of his daughters, Peggy (Paquin).

But this isn't a focus until a late-in-the-game pivot, which may reflect Frank's own regrets as he ages into a lonely old man, but you can't help feel a bit short-changed, especially when Paquin gets about all of two lines.

 

Scorsese convinced Joe Pesci to come out of retirement for this
Scorsese convinced Joe Pesci to come out of retirement for this

 

Where Scorsese excels is world-building, and The Irishman is so evocative of the every era it runs through, from the 1950s onwards. Scorsese lets these scenes marinate, soaking all those little details.

The Irishman isn't a plot-driven film, despite its epic nature. Instead, it's this inky construction of America, on a micro level of these legal and illegal institutions and power structures, and as a wider portrait of a highly corruptible society.

The Irishman is a much more deliberate and weighty gangster film - by comparison, Goodfellas is a riot. But it's a vibe that works in its gravitas.

The film, Scorsese's best since Shutter Island, won't be for everyone, certainly not those short on patience. But if you give it your time, you'll be rewarded.

Rating: 4/5

The Irishman is streaming now on Netflix

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