The Irishman (also titled onscreen as I Heard You Paint Houses) is a 2019 American epic crime film directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian, based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci with supporting roles played by Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel. The film follows a mob hitman who recalls his involvement with American union leader Jimmy Hoffa.
To the shock of almost nobody, it just so happens that the gangster movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci is good. Actually, more than good. This movie is incredible and surpassed my already high expectations.
Regarding our three main leads, this is some of the best work they’ve ever done. De Niro’s restrained turn as a WWII Vet into a Mafia hitman serves as a great contrast to the more active, larger to life mobsters he takes orders from while burying the gravity of his actions within. Al Pacino is wonderfully showy as Jimmy Hoffa, but not to the point where it overtakes the drama. And Joe Pesci, despite mostly having retired from acting, hasn’t lost one bit of his talent in more subtle but menacing performance in comparison to his other performances in films like Goodfellas or Casino.
Even though everyone not named De Niro, Pesci, Pacino play more of bit roles, they are all on-par with our leads and deliver some pretty outstanding work. Of particular mention to me are Harvey Keitel and Stephen Graham. Keitel’s big scene with De Niro and Pesci makes for a nicely tense scene, and anytime Graham shares the spotlight with Pacino makes for some of the film’s best moments.
This film, in its structure, actually reminds me of last year’s Gotti, except the key difference is that it’s actually good and well-told. Both films jump through various points in history. But where it causes Gotti to feel jumbled and incoherent, The Irishman does a much better job guiding the audience through a bunch of key moments and information through effective use of transitions.
Even better is that despite the film’s length of 3 hours and 30 minutes, it never feels too slow or drags unless the scene in question calls for it in service of the narrative. Major praise has to go to Scorsese’s go-to editor Thelma Schoonmaker. So much footage to sort out, and she makes everything flow so smoothly.
This film definitely calls back to Scorsese’s other films like Goodfellas and Casino, but the overall story is portrayed in a much more somber light. Themes like legacy, the passage of time, and betrayal are prevalent throughout and overall quite strongly resonated with me, especially with the last hour with the most suspenseful sequences ever in a Scorsese film and some of his most tragic to boot.
As expected from this director, the direction, cinematography, and music are amazing. Every moment is just about executed to perfection. I am also happy to say that the de-aging is (for the most part) excellent. It actually got to the point that I forgot it was a thing and immerse myself into the narrative at hand. Which I’m happy to say, considering how uncanny it could have turn out in the wrong hands.
It’s tough for me to find anything overtly wrong with this film. I know that puts me at risk of being labeled as another Scorsese nut head, but when his films are so wonderfully crafted and performed, the most I can come up with are nitpicks. The de-aging through great at masking an actor’s age in appearance can’t really mask their age in terms of actual psychical movement, though this is really only an issue in one scene in my book. The length will inherently turn some people off, even though I would argue it’s more than justified. And that’s about it.
The Irishman is what Unforgiven was to Westerns, as the former is for the gangster genre. A film reflects on everything that comes before in a more meditative, brutal fashion that can only be made by someone who played such a crucial role in crafting the genre.
This easily ranks among Scorsese’s best and will pop up on a lot of people’s best films of this year once it wraps up. Like I said, remember the director and lead actors. It’s a winning combo that we’re likely never going to see again. So I’m going to give these people all of my roses while they can still smell them.