Whenever a film is longer than 2.5 hours, I always have to ask if the length is really necessary – could the director not get the job done in a shorter amount of time? Luckily, this is not the case with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019), which uses its runtime to properly develop its complex crime narrative.
Based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, the film tells the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), starting from the 1950s when he first got in touch with the Bufalino crime family. “Painting houses” is code for killing people (the blood spatter is like a nice touch of paint, no?), and this is what Sheeran starts to do for the Bufalinos. Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), the head boss, becomes his mentor and introduces him to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), head of the labour union Teamsters and also involved in the crime business. All the characters in the film are based on real people, and Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975 has never been solved (he was legally declared dead in 1982). The Irishman offers one explanation for the events, which, in my opinion, is great, as I love any film that gets me on a Wikipedia binge about unsolved disappearances.
It’s clear that the story itself is entertaining, but you need good actors to bring it to life, and The Irishman has plenty. Al Pacino is great as Hoffa, switching between being the friendliest bloke on the block and screaming at everyone, and De Niro, with his characteristic lack of emotion, makes a wonderful Sheeran. The friendship between the two is one of the best things in the film. I also marvel at the skills of Welker White as Josephine Hoffa; she had me holding my breath when she was hesitant of turning her car key, afraid her car would blow up. However, The Irishman could do with more screen time for its female characters; it does not even pass the Bechdel test. Ironically, the most important character of the film is Peggy, Sheeran’s daughter, and Lucy Gallina does a wonderful job as 7-year-old Peggy, with her eyes still haunting me today.
The Irishman is so rich in so many ways. Multiple characters and multiple murders make it interesting and riveting, and three and a half hours have never felt that short. The story unfolds bit by bit through detailed scenes of meetings in restaurants, preparing for missions or blowing up lines of taxis (an especially beautiful shot), all culminating in an ending you knew to expect but which still manages to shock. It’s a movie I think I’ll need to rewatch to be able to appreciate it even more, and I’m already looking forward to it.
[Elsa Lindström – she/her – @elsary]
[Photo credit: Netflix]