In one of the scenes in “The Irishman”, Frank Sheeran (played by Robert DeNiro) throws a pistol in the Schyukill River in Pennsylvania after completing a ‘hit’ (contract killing) of a local businessman in New Jersey. As the gun falls to the river bed, it ultimately gets mixed in the rubble of over a 100 other guns, this indicates that the notorious river was a favorite of local gangsters in the local community. The scene also is a grim reminder of how Martin Scorsese ‘normalizes’ crime in everyday life in his films. It also brings to light the world in which Frank Sheeran operates. The world of mobsters and hitmen in the 1960’s America.
The Irishman is a major event in motion picture history. It unites Italian American acting legends such as Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci for the first time in films. The film brings Martin Scorsese and Al Pacino for the first time in their 50 year plus careers. Other legends such as Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano rounding up with relatively younger stars such as Anna Pacquin and Jesse Plemmons To movie aficionados across the world, this 209 minute marathon movie experience, this is a rare privilege irrespective of whether the movie is good or bad. No matter how you slice it, it’s a fruit to be savored once in decades.
The Story Of Irishman
The movie is based on a screenplay by legendary screenwriter Steven Zaillian’s adaptation of the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt. Zaillian is also the writer of the Oscar winning “Schindler’s List”. The book talks about the life and times of union official and organized hitman Frank Sheeran who admitted in his memoirs that he had actually gunned down Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa was the President of The International Teamsters Union, and was possibly one of the most powerful men in the US in the 1960’s-70’s. The film also chronicles several important relationships as well. Notably the Frank Sheeran- Russell Buffalino friendship. Russell (Joe Pesci) is the best friend of Frank Sheeran and helps him in building his life from a small time truck driver to being the close confidante of Jimmy Hoffa. Russell is a mobster with partnerships in several local businesses. The other relationship in focus is the Sheeran-Hoffa friendship which develops very fast and Hoffa develops immense confidence in Sheeran. But this is also the most nuanced partnership in the story as well with umpteen number of shades. However, the most beautiful and compelling relationship is between Frank and his younger daughter Peggy. Peggy played by Anna Pacquin and a child actor speaks 3-4 lines in the whole movie but visually this ‘bond’ between daughter and father stays forever with you. The film also touches upon the political instability in the 1960s with a lot of impetus on the relation between the mob and the political establishment which was in direct confrontation against Corporate America.
The “Purza” in Martin Scorsese’s films
Most of Martin Scorsese’s characters like Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), Sam Rothstein( Casino), Colin Sullivan ( The Departed) , Jake La Motta (Raging Bull) and many more are essentially “Purza” type characters. “Purza” in Hindi means a spare part, something vital which fits into a larger ecosystem and somehow is very valuable to the food chain. The person however may or may not be recognized or even be successful but they all end up being highly strategic and indispensable. The other issue with “Purzas” is that they don’t usually die in the end, they actually end up telling the story or idea what Scorsese and his team have mounted up. For Eg. Sam Rothstein in “Casino” is a fairly wealthy man but he too is an “operator” for the mob’s money in Las Vegas. In the end , everyone dies but Sam lives as he is “valuable” to the upper establishment.
Frank Sheeran is the ultimate “Purza” who is completely subservient to Russell, Buffalino Jimmy Hoffa and other people who offer him the job or money. He rarely confronts his bosses and never haggles on issues with money. But he is a bit touchy about self-respect. But more than anything, he is a superb execution specialist. Performs the kill , cleans up the mess, accepts his salary and then moves on. At home, he is very loving and caring with his family.
But Scorsese and Zaillian ensure that Frank stays highly valuable as an asset till the very end of his working life. In some ways it can be debated that Scorsese presents Frank Sheeran as loyal American citizen but who works devotedly for crime.
The Direction Of Scorsese and Performances
Martin Scorsese harnesses the strengths of these legendary actors by using a top rate screenplay of Zaillian and the legendary editing skills of Thelma Schoomaker. These skills ensure that the viewer gets past the aura of these legends quickly and starts absorbing the story. The investiture of the viewer is very quick and full marks to Scorsese for that. Then there are some vintage moments like when Anna Pacquin suddenly grows up in a scene and still stares at DeNiro who is having his milk-cereal breakfast staring at the murder of a gangster on TV which he actually has performed. The daughter doesn’t say a single word and the father gets the message of it all. The camera work of Rodrigo Preito makes a movie which is just a “bunch of guys hanging out in rooms and streets” into an epic of sorts.
In the opening introductory speech of Al Pacino, he screams the word “Solidarity” about 3 times. That decibel level tells you volumes about the energy of Pacino and the kind of work Scorsese gets out of his actors.
This has to be the ‘swan song’ of DeNiro’s acting career. He is absolutely riveting in his difficult scenes. His body language is magnetic although he stutters and stammers in confrontation sequences. The Aging of De Niro actually is quite effective although you can see it visibly, but DeNiro the performer triumphs at the end.
THE TOP STATISTICS ABOUT THE IRISHMAN
About 20% to 30% of the major incidents happen in cars only. Actress Anna Pacquin speaks only 2-3 lines in the whole film. NETFLIX paid over $175 Million for the movie. First film with Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese. Biggest runtime for a gangster film in recent years. Over 209 minutes
FINAL VERDICT :
The Irishman has to be one of the greatest crime dramas ever written. It’s on the lines of The Godfather in its narrative and storytelling. It will go down in history as a fitting tribute to the legacy of gangster films in Hollywood. Despite its length, the film seems like a breeze.
I would give this movie a 9 out of 10 for its brilliant narrative, tight editing and superlative acting.