REVIEW: Film art legends deliver a powerful American odyssey

Now, we all know Jimmy Hoffa’s body was taken from beneath a stadium into a UFO by aliens, but I suppose it’s worth checking out what this film’s take is on what happened.

“The Irishman” refers to a nickname given to Frank Sheeran, played here by Robert De Niro. At the start of Director Martin Scorsese’s latest feature film, Sheeran is working as a truck driver in Philadelphia, who delivers meat and earns an honest living. However, after some time, he begins making some shipments to a local gangster, and from there he gets involved with mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Sheeran begins doing jobs for Russell and eventually becomes an enforcer for the crime syndicate.

Eventually, because of the ties between certain organized crime factions and some unions, Frank comes into contact with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The powerful Teamsters President takes a liking to Frank and eventually the two start working together. The work he does, though, is deadly and corrupt. As a result Frank’s life never really settles down.

Is “The Irishman” a really good movie? Yes. Is it also too long? Yes.

Despite a length that could be considered excessive, though, the movie never feels like an exhausting experience, or like it overstays its welcome. Perhaps this could have worked better as a mini-series, but as a whole, Scorsese manages to bring everything together in a wall paced, coherent feature film.

If there could have been something cut from “The Irishman” to save some time, though, it could have been series of scenes spliced in here and there of another point in Frank’s life where he’s going on a road trip with Russell. Many of these scenes related to this trip weren’t as necessary in the long run and likely could’ve been trimmed for a slightly slimmer production.

With that said, “The Irishman” provides an audience with a compelling and interesting look into the rich, deep, and dark, history of Jimmy Hoffa’s relationship to crime. The movie explores the height of organized crime in the post World War II era, its connections to politicians such as John F. Kennedy, and the reach Hoffa had as a leader.

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Courtesy Netflix

While there’s a lot going on here with criminal motivations and political outcomes, though, the movie also stays grounded by connecting all of these aspects to Frank’s personal life. As the picture progresses, the audience sees how everything that Frank did as part of his work transcended onto his family, specifically his daughter, especially in the third act.

It’s Frank’s personal life that allows the viewer to become more aware of the ripple effects that are caused as a result of what takes place in this world.

What also makes a lot of these aspects work in “Irishman” are the performances, especially from the three leads. The trio are legends of the industry, each having won Oscars and more, and their talent is really on display here.

The filmmakers did use technology to make the actors look younger, so they could play the characters at various points in their lives, and it mostly works. There are some points where the technology can’t keep up, so to speak, and it’s somewhat noticeable unfortunately. It’s not a major flaw, since it looks good the majority of the time, but it’s there.

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Regardless, the acting is phenomenal here, especially from Pesci, who is amazing in this picture. The character Russell is calm, but cunning, and it’s clear the gears are always turning in his head. Pesci nails this cool demeanor so well, and he brings gravity to each scene he’s in.

De Niro, meanwhile, does impressive work portraying a character that at first seems to be a blue-collar every-man, but as the film wears on, appears to be a darker, more violent person. De Niro, of course, has experience in both sides already, having portrayed a blue-collar person in “A Bronx Tale” and a mobster in several others, and he brings those traits for “The Irishman” and the result is a compelling performance.

In the role of Hoffa, Pacino’s intense, energetic acting style worked rather well for the union leader, who came across like a fired-up politician in several scenes. Hoffa rallied people to his cause and wanted things his way, and Pacino gets this across in many scenes.

It also has to be noted that Ray Romano lends really solid dramatic work to the picture as a union lawyer

Scorsese, along with the crew working on cinematography and production design, deserve a lot of credit for recreating the era, too. The grand scope and scale of the film, along with the historic nature of the premise, all shine through here very well.

“The Irishman” is a very well made piece of cinema capturing corruption, the human condition and violence in fantastic detail. The movie probably could’ve been trimmed in parts and the de-aging tech featured isn’t always spot on, but this is certainly a nicely crafted movie. 4.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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