The Irishman

Time changes nothing
Time changes nothing


D: Martin Scorsese

Netflix/TriBeCa/Sikelia (Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Jane Rosenthal, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler, Gerald Chamales, Gaston Pavlovich, Randall Emmett & Gabriele Istrailovici)

USA 🇺🇸 2019

209 mins


W: Steven Zaillian [based on the novel "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt]

DP: Rodrigo Prieto

Ed: Thelma Schoonmaker

Mus: Robbie Robertson

PD: Bob Shaw

Cos: Sandy Powell & Christopher Peterson

Robert DeNiro (Frank Sheeran), Al Pacino (Jimmy Hoffa), Joe Pesci (Russell Bufalino), Ray Romano (Bill Bufalino), Bobby Cannavale (Felix DiTullio), Stephen Graham (Tony Provenzano), Anna Paquin (Peggy Sheeran), Jesse Plemons (Chuckie O'Brien), Harvey Keitel (Angelo Bruno)

A running time of 3 hours 29 minutes may see many potential audiences skip this at the cinema & instead stream it via Netflix, but The Irishman is simply a film which has to be seen on the big screen, so it can be given full attention and the respect it deserves.

Adapted from Charles Brandt's novel, I Heard You Paint Houses, the plot follows Frank 'The Irishman' Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), a working class truck driver who falls in with Pennsylvania Mafia member, Russell Bufalino, running out smalltime tasks for the mob before becoming a trusted hitman for them and later becoming deeply involved in the (still unsolved) disappearance of trade union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

Though a work of fiction, the story takes its cues from real events and people as it spans six decades of Sheeran's life in the mob, utilising de-ageing visual effects so the actors appear 40 years younger, which I'll touch on a bit more later on.  The film adopts a non-linear narrative, but it's very easy to follow as an elderly Sheeran reminisces on his past, starting off as a delivery driver skimming his shipments and quickly promoted to a gun for hire. Sheeran and Bufalino soon find themselves in the circle of Jimmy Hoffa's most trusted friends, soon before the union activist gets a short prison sentence for fraud. Upon his release, Hoffa still craves the influence he once had amongst the Trucksters Union, but the balance of power has shifted and he becomes an undesirable annoyance by those higher up, who are hinted to have even been behind John F. Kennedy's assassination.

The film has a lot of story to get through, but at no point does it seem heavy-going, and for a film of such a long running time, it really doesn't feel like a 3hr 29 minute movie. There's an hour in this running time which just goes so quickly and it's something I really can't explain. As with all Scorsese's films, it's a film in which everything is crafted to perfection. The cinematography, costumes, sets and makeup are all brilliantly convincing & the trio of main performances are nothing short of fantastic. Joe Pesci actually came out of retirement for this role and it's like he'd never been gone at all. DeNiro gives his finest performance in decades, appearing in virtually every scene as the Irishman of the title, but it's Pacino who probably steals the show with his slightly over the top portrayal of Hoffa. The rest of the ensemble are also fantastic, with special mention going to Anna Paquinas Sheeran's distance daughter. She's not given a lot of dialogue but says an awful lot simply with body language and facial expression.

The only criticism I really have is the de-ageing effects, which do appear a little jarring when they're first seen (especially on Pesci) but after as the scenes tick along, it's impossible to tell whether they are digital effects, makeup, both or neither.

The only thing that really annoys me about this film is nothing to do with the production itself and everything to do with distribution. I really don't care for Netflix and their business model. Streaming is fine as an option, but they seem intent on making it the only way to stream media, and as a film buff and a collector, films like The Irishman deserve to be released on DVD/Blu-Ray and certainly deserve a much bigger cinema run, rather than only in selected cinemas for a very limited time.

Prior to the film's release, Scorsese evoked the scorn of Marvel fans by saying "superhero movies aren't cinema", an opinion which I feel he's entitled to despite disagreeing with him. One thing is for certain though... The Irishman is cinema!


Robert DeNiro in The Irishman
Robert DeNiro in The Irishman