By: Webster Titlton
Runtime: 3.5 Hours
The problem with reviewing a really good movie is that sometimes there isn’t much to say. Honestly, what did anyone expect?
Martin Scorsese put Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, and Ray Romano in a gangster movie together and then Netflix gave him total control to make it however he wanted. Some statements aren’t so much accurate as they are definitions: Circles are round, day follows night, The Irishman is a superb movie.
Al Pacino has been my favorite actor ever since I saw the movie Heat back in 1995. Like The Irishman, Heat was a contemplative movie (which also starred De Niro). It took the time to show its characters thinking through their actions and deliberating on the consequences. They felt like real people struggling against inevitable changes to the world they thought they knew; decisive, intelligent, self-destructive men who learned long ago that they couldn’t fight their basic natures, waiting for an outcome they know they can’t change; and only admitting at the very end that they never intended to try.
The basic details of the rise and fall of Jimmy Hoffa are well known, but the movie assumes the audience knows nothing and supplies all of this information. Which is fine, because this film has the luxury of taking its time. It clocks in at three and a half hours, contains zero filler, and never drags or bogs down.
By the time Hoffa (Pacino) enters the film, he’s already the president of the Teamsters union. His first appearance, and Pacino’s first scene, doesn’t even have the two actors in the same room together, but it’s amazing. A simple phone call layered with subtext has more dynamism between two actors than you’ll see in almost any other film. The obvious point of comparison, and only other example I can think of involving a scene of dialogue that good, is the famous Restaurant Scene between Pacino and De Niro in the movie Heat.
And every scene is like that. The acting is so good at every moment that you could be forgiven for not noticing the rest of the movie. Even the minor parts are cast with the finest actors doing their best work, and even the least important scenes are fully executed with intense attention to period detail. Movies that are heavy on dialogue also need good sound editing, and this movie has the best.
That being said, I did have one problem with the movie. The first act takes place in the mid-1950s when De Niro’s character Frank Sheeran and Pesci’s character Russell Buffalino are supposed to be 35 and 50 years old respectively. They managed to make De Niro look about 50, but Pesci looks his real age of 76. As the film moves into later and later time periods, their actual ages clash less and less with what we’re being asked to believe, but during those first few scenes it’s pretty jarring. I thought they should have used younger actors for that first segment of the movie.
But that is literally my only complaint. The rest of the movie is perfect, and you should watch it at your first opportunity. De Niro carries the film wonderfully, and his co stars Pacino and Pesci are the best they’ve ever been. The grand old men of American acting, going out for one last ride together. We’re lucky to have been around to see it.