Okay, I’m going to put my raging bias of my opinion of Martin Scorsese in light of his comments on Marvel movies to one side because all in all, I think it’s a bit unfair and unreasonable for the most part. I do however have to say, my opinion of Martin Scorsese is that I’m rather mixed on his films. He has some really good films in his bunch. Taxi Driver is a film I enjoy watching, and I do enjoy his remake of Cape Fear.
However, I seem to find myself enjoying a lot of his lesser known films. As much as I’m a fan of The King of Comedy, the films in the last few years that have really drawn me to Scorsese have been 2010’s Shutter Island and 2011’s Hugo. And yes, I know a lot of people didn’t like that film, but I personally was a fan of that one. It seemed like a really nice homage to early cinema and silent film, probably even more so than The Artist, which came out in the exact same year.
One of the problems I have with Scorsese is his films tend to be way too long; he often doesn’t know when to stop. However, when he gets it right, he really does get it right. Sure, I’ve watched The Wolf of Wall Street, which is a film I really don’t care for, and I really wasn’t a fan of the last film he did, Silence, of which anyone who has a problem with Saw being torture-porn and doesn’t have a go at that movie for the exact same thing, you are lying to yourself. It’s the exact same goddamn thing. The only difference is that the director is claiming it’s more artsy than that.
The Irishman has been presented as a really big deal, however. Not only has Scorsese reunited with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, as well as several other actors he’s made famous, including actors like Harvey Keitel and Ray Romano, but he’s also brought on board Steven Zaillian to write the screenplay, nominated four times for Oscars and won the Oscar for the best adapted screenplay for Schindler’s List. So, it’s really, “How do you talk about this film a lot?” Well, you could talk a lot about this film in several regards. For one thing, you’re not going to spoil the movie all that much – this film once again runs into the Scorsese category of really, really long. In fact, it’s even longer than The Wolf of Wall Street, coming in at a total of 3 and a half hours. This is genuinely one of the longest things I’ve had to sit through in a long time.
Now, this film did have a limited run in cinemas when it first came out in the UK, but it’s now been confined to Netflix, which is definitely better as its home. Netflix definitely see this as their big move into prestige cinema, and as a result they’ve been pushing it like hell. I suspect they’re also in hopes that their campaign will result in an Oscar nomination, and The Irishman definitely has potential to be the first film that Netflix had a big part in that will receive the Oscar nomination, which would be a massive coup. And if it were to win, it could be a very different transition for the cinema industry. Let’s face it, how’s it going to look when a film that won best picture had barely any time in cinemas and made most of its success on a streaming service?
Before you celebrate too much however, I’m really not a fan of The Irishman. This comes to my category of why I’m not a huge fan of gangster movies; I just feel like most gangster films are generally about very horrible people that make lots of people very miserable, and while I’m fully in favour of films like that, I feel like gangster films don’t often call out the main character as awful or that these are a group of people who are, by their very nature, intending to cause great harm. You can dress it up with loyalty and all that stuff but at the end of the day, many of these people are essentially monsters. The Irishman has a very, very similar effect to that. It’s actually a story that’s told throughout several time periods, including the 50s, 60s, all the way up to the 2000s. It’s about a top mob hit-man, Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran who’s played by Robert De Niro, and also surrounds the very famous disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino.
Now, you don’t need to be a massive historian to know that Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in the 80s, and from what I’ve heard, in terms of historical accuracy, this is rather close. It was based on a biography chronicling many of the events however, again, the fact that this is based on an unsolved mystery leaves screenplay writer Steven Zaillian with a golden opportunity. He can pretty much interpret things whatever way he wants. But good God, I just thought this film dragged. Now, I did not go to see the film during its limited cinema run, I saw the film when it came on Netflix, which it’s currently on. Normally I would say with a film like this, if you’ve got some time on Netflix this is one you can check out, but even then, I think it’s hard. If you can get through this film in one sitting, you’re doing a better job than me because I really struggled to get through this thing in one sitting. And I don’t always struggle with very long movies; I’ve sat through The Lord of The Rings, for example, and those films go on just as long, especially the extended cuts.
But I found myself just saying this entire time, and doing this is very typical of a lot of gangster films and Scorsese films, I’m just watching horrible people being horrible and not much else. You can dress it up all you want but that is really what it boils down to, and if you compare it to a film like say, Joker, which has recently come out and has been compared to Scorsese in quite several ways. Joker is a film that is also about a horrible person doing horrible things, but it dives into his motivation and thus turns it into a character piece. The Irishman goes for a very similar aspect to it, but because it’s got such a long run-time, it feels like those moments are few and far between. If anything, it actually feels like a rather padded film. A lot of people talked about cutting about 15 to 30 minutes of this film, but I think you could go further. I think you could cut an hour of this movie and wouldn’t have to change much.
I’m really getting sick of this idea that filmmakers have that longer movies equal better movies. It’s not the case. We’ve seen that rather recently with Disney’s live action remakes which have artificially extended the runtime and added tons of padding and weird changes to make up that runtime, not acknowledging that the reason those plotlines went on that long was because the scriptwriters knew the film was long enough that the point had been hammered home enough. I felt a very similar situation on this one; I just did not get why this film needed to be this long. In fact, my housemate even tried to watch the film himself and couldn’t get through it, and like me, he found it profoundly boring.
There are so many moments where not much is actually happening, and I don’t mean that in terms of, “Well, these are character development – it doesn’t need much dialogue.” No, it really feels like nothing at all is happening, and I know that is a bit weird coming from me considering that a lot of my favourite Studio Ghibli films are the ones where it’s slice-of-life stories and just about the characters going about their daily business. I keep telling people, if you’re going to do a film like that, you need to have likeable characters. I don’t like anyone in this movie. It’s just a case of “you’re all horrible people, I don’t feel comfortable in your presence”. And once again, rather like many gangster films, I don’t think this film really calls out its subject matter. Now, fortunately, not many people are going to make any money off this film, but I’m getting kind of sick of these films. This does feel like a classic Scorsese film which if you’re a fan of that, you’re going to love this movie. It’s pretty much everything that made the man famous in the first place. But oh God, this just felt like it was a real hard task to get through at times. I know it’s just a me thing; plenty of people have reviewed this film really well but I personally don’t really like it.
Now one of the things that’s been talked about a lot has been the de-aging effects that have been used for the actors. I actually thought that some of these effects have been really good. It doesn’t feel as intrusive as bringing actors back from the dead like in Rogue 1 or recent other films, but the effects have been actually really damn good. Some of the scenes don’t work out so well and one of the common complaints that I’ve seen in a lot of news has been that while the faces are perfectly timed, you can still tell that the movement is coming from someone in their 60s. I’ll have to echo that one; you definitely notice it. But there are a lot of time where it does feel like they’ve brought back Robert Dr Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci into their prime. But I’d be lying if I said I thought that this film was completely unscathed as a result of that. As for the other actors, well, as you’d expect from a cast this star-studded, there’s not really a bad performance in the bunch. This is an excellent cast. Al Pacino is doing an excellent job as Jimmy Hoffa, he’s almost unrecognizable at some points. Robert De Niro seems like he’s finally learned his lesson and started going back into the films that he sort of belongs in. And he gives a very good performance, I just wish he was in a film that I could really properly stand to watch for that long.
A lot of controversy has surrounded Anna Paquin, the fact that she had so few lines in the movie in a script that’s been written by a man and a film that’s been directed by a man. While I think there’s potentially a conversation, I think I have to echo Mark Kermode’s review of the matter and saw that I think in this instance, there’s actually an artistic reason for why that has been done, and this is an occasion where this doesn’t feel like blatant sexism.
Now I got that mini rant out the way, I’ll just say that I’m really not a fan of The Irishman. I really waffled around in this review, but I struggle to have much of an opinion on it. This should be the sort of film that I really praise coming out, but it really made me realize why Martin Scorsese’s comments about Marvel really hit me. It ignores the fact that films like that are enjoyable, but they also can have great moments and great characters and great actors giving great performances, and when you reserve that distinction to films like this, you cheapen the medium of cinema. And that’s kind of how I felt when I was watching The Irishman. Frankly, it feels snobby.
This film does not need to be three and a half hours long and I think it doesn’t spend enough time calling out its subject matter. It’s got amazing effects, and some good central performances, especially actors like Robert De Niro, Anna Paquin, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, however, this film really dragged for me. At one point, I was shaking my watch only to realize I had an hour and a half left to go. You will not get through this film in one sitting. If you love Scorsese films, this one is right up your alley as it is everything that we quintessentially associate with the director. But I think we ended up getting way more of the bad than the good. However, I know a lot of people disagree with me, so I would actually say in this instance, take my review with a pinch of salt.
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