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Movie Review | The Irishman

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano) accompany Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) in The Irishman

Movie summary: An old man recalls his time painting houses for his friend, Jimmy Hoffa, through the 1950-70s. (IMDb)

That summary from IMDb directly above? Very sneaky, even if technically accurate, and giving nothing away about the movie. Well, I'm going to do that here anyway and tell you that it's not paint that Robert De Niro's character, Frank Sheeran, is splattering on the walls of these houses. Unfortunately, that clever summary above is more inventive than anything in this movie.

What we've got here is basically a gangster Forrest Gump, following Sheeran through his life as takes on a variety of unsavoury jobs for others while slowly progressing forward through the decades and the world changing around them all. 'Slowly' being the key word there, with The Irishman coming in at a boredom-inducing 3.5 hours.

I don't have a problem with long movies in the slightest. Avengers: Endgame was 3 hours long and was one of my favourite movies of 2019. The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Scorsese just like this movie, is also 3 hours long and keeps me entertained throughout. The Lord of the Rings extended editions, the Kingdom of Heaven director's cut, Blade Runner 2049 - all long films I have enjoyed from start to finish.

With The Irishman, my interest faded just after the halfway mark and never came back. As the movie just kept dragging on, I hoped that it was all leading up to some kind of cathartic finish - or even just something that would tie all the events together. But no, the movie is about following Frank Sheeran's life and that's all it does.

The biggest problem with that approach is that it feels like a greatest hits collection of gangster movie moments and nothing here felt particularly fresh - all the twists and turns had been done better in other movies that weren't beholden to real history, or at least felt that they could play with actual events enough to make them more interesting to watch.

It doesn't help that the main characters are played by men who are too old to feel like the younger guys they're supposed to be in certain scenes. Hell, there's one scene with Sheeran in World War 2 where he would've been in his mid-twenties, but De Niro looks closer to fifty and still moves like the septuagenarian he really is.

The Irishman would've been helped massively by casting actors 20-30 years younger than De Niro, Pacino and Pesci - actors who could play both younger and older versions of the same people. The thing is, I think Scorsese was hoping that casting these particular actors and their history in portraying members of the mob would help inform the audience about the characters without the movie needing to do too much.

Unfortunately, their understandable inability to move with the same freedom they had when they were younger isn't helped by some poor de-aging facial work, including several scenes which honestly look worse than you'll see in AAA gaming. Most of the time the effects are at least passable, but it's honestly not hyperbole to say that there are a handful of brief scenes which made me wonder how they made it into the movie.

Speaking of not understanding how certain scenes made it into the movie, the number of times scenes repeat messages imparted in other scenes is ridiculous. Why do we have to be told over and over again who is friends with who; who owes who a favour; who has what responsibilities? The absolute nadir is a conversation between Sheeran and Hoffa (Pacino) near the end which repeats itself so often it actually began to irritate me.

Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) talk in The Irishman

Then there are the scenes which go on for far too long, usually because it's showing us something from A to B to C to D rather than just cutting from the first point to the last because the material in-between does nothing to inform the audience about the characters or advance the plot. Much like Tarantino's movies, it feels like indulgence on Scorsese's part, knowing no-one is going to say no to him even though they really should.

I can completely understand why movie studios didn't want to have anything to do with The Irishman, and I'm pretty sure my opinion of it would be even lower if I'd had to sit through this at the cinema rather than the comfort of watching at home and being able to have a break whenever I felt like it. This really feels like it should've been a prestige TV series rather than a movie.

Honestly, watch this movie in 30-40 minute chunks and spread it out a little. Not enough happens over the lengthy running time to justify sitting through all 3.5 hours in one go and is certainly something I'll avoid if I ever watch this again, which I highly doubt. Or watch it with at least one other person present so you can talk about something more interesting during one of the many, many, many slow points in this movie.

I don't want to be too harsh on The Irishman, because it is Scorsese and it is this cast, so there is a certain minimum level of quality present that you'd expect from those involved - a minimum level which is met but never surpassed. Like I said above, it took until around the halfway point for me to realise just how slow everything was progressing and for my interest to start fading.

One last qualifier I'll give is that I think this movie may have the same problem I had with Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood, which is me not having any particular attachment to the period in history being covered. Not being American, I have no pre-existing connection to these people or this time - if you do have such a connection, you may well love this movie.

This review is one of those times where the link on the right to my review score guideline is important, because I don't think that the quality of anything in The Irishman is poor (aside from the poorer moments of de-aging CGI work) in terms of the performances or how the movie looks and sounds. It's more that you could cut at least an hour from the movie and lose absolutely nothing.

The Irishman is too long a movie for how little actually happens. Unless you're a major fan of the bigger names involved, I'd advise watching this movie in chunks rather than all at once because you might struggle to finish otherwise. Poor editing and pacing are the biggest problems and the quality of the performances and cinematography unfortunately can't make up for it.

The Irishman is good, but 'good' wears out its welcome at the 2-hour mark and the last 1.5 hours are a struggle to get through without completely losing interest, with character beats being repeated over and over again. And the de-aging CGI? Well below par for a big movie like this. Watch it in 30-45 minute chunks over a few days or prepare to feel sleepy if you watch it all in one go.


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