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The Irishman - Film Review

by Emilia Ippolito

The 63rd BFI Film Festival closed this year with a sensational film: The Irishman, directed by the cinema icon Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro (Frank Sheeran) and Al Pacino (Jimmy Hoffa) in the main roles and Joe Pesci (Russell Bufalino) along with Harvey Keitel (Angelo Bruno) and Anna Paquin (Peggy Sheeran) in minor roles - but just as relevant to its complex narrative.

The story is broadly based on Charles Brandt’s biopic I Heard You Paint Houses, allegedly Frank Sheeran’s ambiguous admission that he assassinated the powerful former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) on 30 July 1975. Steven Zillan, who has already worked with Scorsese on most of his gangsters movies, transformed the book into the film script: the story of how the mafia actually led American unions such as Teamsters - in particular in Chicago, Detroit and New York from the post-war economic and social boom, up until the late 80s, when the bosses started dying.

The Scorsese-Zillan duo focuses on the logic of the mafia, the eternal and unresolved rivalry between Italians and Irish counterparts - rendered in the association’s authentic short, very effective lines and jargon - naturally interspersed with picks of violence, both psychological and physical. The last part - whose maybe excessive length has been criticised by both critics and spectators, concentrates on human factors: even the most powerful men become ill, old and faded away. This last part is played by De Niro practically in an excellent solo performance, inevitably supported by the wonders of CGI: Sheeran actually spent his last years in solitude, unrepentantly reflecting on his life, severely judged by his beloved daughter Peggy (Ann Paquin), who refuses to even talk to him, and preparing for his own death - with the only compassionate assistance of a priest.

The fantastic trio waited for 12 years to work together: Pacino had never been directed by Scorsese, whereas De Niro had already worked with either in the most meaningful and successful films of his career: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York New York, Raging Bull, Cape Fear, Casino, Goodfellas, among others.

At a press conference, (see our video capture below) Scorsese honestly admitted that the delay was due to lacking fundings from Hollywood studios, which led him to accept the generous budget (150 million dollar) agreed with Netflix, with one condition only: the film would be available on the private network as well as on big screens. Questioned as to whether this might be the future of cinema we’d better resign to, he replied : ‘Well yes, there aren’t many options left if Hollywood refuses a project”, promptly supported by his main producer and financial business partner of the past two decades, newyorker Jane Rosenthal: ‘This change to the way films are made and watched should not be taken as a negative one at all; let me also emphasise the fact that the public will be able to watch the film either on big screens or on Netflix: the choice is still with spectators’.

One major point of discussion was also the use of CGI, absolutely necessary in our age for a film that covers over half a century of history, following the same characters through the whole period. They all actually look authentically young in the first half of the movie. Personally I don’t think that Scorsese would have ever wanted to use different actors, although he says that ‘younger actors’ were not available. ‘In the past we used make-up and I certainly remember lengthy and exhausting sessions with make-up artists.... Trust me, that was never a pleasure!’ - confessed Pacino, still kin on looking as trendy and detached as a real urban star.

Quizzed about the ‘necessity’ of portraying pain on the screen, De Niro adamantly replied : ‘These are not fictional characters, these people really existed and their actions had consequences for a lot of people’, immediately followed by his friend and director: ‘You know, this is life... same as moments of joy, illness, physical decay, pain and sorrow are part of life, therefore yes, we may as well see it on screen’.

None of the stars revealed any details of their future projects, however all three of them confirmed their intention to keep working. Scorsese was more dary, maybe provoked by a curious enquiry: ‘I can’t make animation movies, as well as I cannot possibly improvise on set, that’s not going to happen’. So, no hope for Marvel or animation by the Actor Studio’s master.


The film will be on general release in the UK on November 1st, and three weeks later on Netflix. Definitely not to be missed!




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