I love films and I love to rave about great works of cinema. Sometimes though a movie will come along that everyone else heralds as a masterwork yet for some reason I don’t get it. This is something I don’t love.
I am confident that I know what makes a film good and when something like The Irishman comes along to universal rapturous applause only for it to leave me underwhelmed I start to question myself. Clearly I can see the artistry in The Irishman, I respect the level of storytelling involved and I can recognise that the performances are excellent but I didn’t see anything surprising or particularly moving here and my engagement was tested. If you are shouting at your computer as you read this then please berate me in the comments box below or on the Notlefthandedfiguide Facebook page because I fear I might need to be taken to school on this one.
It could be that the movie carried a high level of expectation, only compounded by strong reviews, but this doesn’t normally affect me. The best films can stand up to any level of anticipation and I can normally manage mine. Full disclosure, I didn’t watch this in one sitting and that may have drawn me out of the action, but again this isn’t typically an issue either. As it is I think I’d have found The Irishman quite hard work if I’d sat down with it, unbroken, for the entire three and a half hour running time.
My first reservation is with the de-aging special effects they have used to have Robert DeNiro play the same character across his life. It just isn’t good enough, certainly not as good as the work Marvel Studios have done to drive cinema forward in this area. It took me about fifteen minutes to get used to the appearance of the young DeNiro and even after this point there were several occasions where it would suddenly look odd and distract me from the story. There is one scene in particular, where it flashes back to the guy’s time in the army and it looked a lot like Call of Duty.
This isn’t such an issue with Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, possibly because we are more familiar with the way a young DeNiro looked and moved. The younger Pacino’s physicality was very different to the one he has here and Pesci was never smooth faced on screen but DeNiro is closer to how he was in the 80s and 90s; closer but not close enough.
DeNiro’s CGI face is not the only aspect of the man we’ve seen with greater authenticity before. Martin Scorsese’s reunion with DeNiro and their dual return to gangster films also felt like a failure to recreate what was once fresher. I know that many people are saying this is a triumphant return to the mob genre that these men helped shape but so much of it just followed the same old steps. It starts with a smart but unskilled guy getting in with the mafia and slowly rising up the ranks until he is made and we have seen this too many times already. Frankly, this wasn’t even new when they did it in Goodfellas but there they did something exciting with it. I didn’t feel they did anything exciting with it here. Maybe I’m wrong to want The Irishman to be exciting and tense, perhaps it’s meant to be a more measured and nuanced movie but there was nothing here that was at all surprising or moving. DeNiro does give one of those restrained performances that he is famous for and he wipes Pacino off the screen with it, just like he did in Heat but I didn’t find it emotionally engaging.
Much of the problem here is that this real life character doesn’t deserve your sympathy. He is a cold, unquestioning, selfish and impassive killer and that’s not easy to root for. They do play with this nicely at the end when he begins to see that he’s going to have to do a job that he doesn’t want to and his loyalty to the bosses is tested but this is over two hours in and it is too little way, way, waaaaaay too late.
Finally I couldn’t buy into the idea that this Irishman, who’d lived a life serving the mob, nobley took all his secrets to the grave because in reality he blabbed it all to a writer called Charles Brandt who turned it into the book that this movie is based on. You can’t have this story but have him be so tight lipped, I mean you literally can’t. Besides, he’s been narrating it to the audience for what feels like a week.
The Irishman is a good film; it is atmospheric, beautifully shot and well acted, it just isn’t the great one others have said it is. Even it’s fans must admit that it is predictable, formulaic and unchallenging. I also found to be too long, have I mentioned that? I can’t tell you what they should have cut out but for me it would have dragged even as a TV series. Seriously, tell me what I’m not seeing here.
The Ripley Factor:
As mentioned, one thing I can see is the quality of the performances. DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci are all good and Stephen Graham also deserves a mention. Unfortunately the female cast struggle to stand out in this very male orientated film. The one exception is Anna Paquin who plays DeNiro’s daughter.
There has been criticism of her part in the film as she only speaks six words in the whole two hundred and seventy minutes and this is evidence of how marginalised. Women are marginalised in The Irishman but I will defend it here because the power in Paquin’s performance is in her silence. It is also significant that she is the only person who is able to hold this man to account for his life of violence and crime. This said, a son would never have played this key role in a story of this nature so I’m not sure that there still isn’t some inequality and stereotyping here.