❉ Pacino’s first collaboration with Scorsese is a flawed masterpiece, writes Eoghan Lyng.
Hoo-haw, Al Pacino’s back baby! His first collaboration with Martin Scorsese is a testament to a forty year wait that leaves audience members incredulous that the pair didn’t partner up before 2019. It was worth the forty year wait, Pacino reinvesting the stealth, stamina and settled cool he so effortlessly brought to The Godfather trilogy, re-exciting a creative muse he’s largely sidelined since welcoming combatants to his “leetle friend” in 1983. Playing Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa, a man described as a popular equivalent to Elvis and The Beatles, Pacino leads the film with sparkled electricity, running through syndicalist doctrines with razor sharp fury. He enters this sprawling epic as it enters its second hour, bringing a deserved boost to what was a slow, sludgy start.
Let me backtrack. The Irishman is a masterpiece, yes, but it’s a problematic masterpiece, a flawed masterpiece, a masterpiece of a bygone era. Its most revolutionary aspect is the de-ageing effects it wrongfully boasted as cutting edge. Watching the septuagenarian Robert De Niro in World War II combat gear was met with rapturous laughter at my cinema. Unlike the punchier The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman feels every bit as long as advertised, the storyline a routine Scorsese has delivered better in past mobster epics. And don’t get me started on how the film wastes Oscar winner Anna Paquin with three paltry lines!
What the film boasts are career-best performances from Stephen Graham, Joe Pesci (his first film of note since 2010) and a wiry Pacino. Steering the colossus through fifty years of storyline, each of these men shows the gifts, aches, pains, heartbreaks and struggles a life spent in crime holds on the body. In the middle of this stands Frank Sheehan (De Niro), a truck driver whose strength of body and character suits him to the mobster lifestyle his own daughters shame him for. Opening on the aged Sheehan, hospital bound and lonely, he finds himself recounting the tales and horrors of a life he hopes to absolve even if his God won’t. There’s a pathos to this film you won’t see in Taxi Driver or The Departed, ravaged in the pathetic afterthoughts a violent life has led him. Hoffa stands as one of his life’s few consolations, Pacino smiling with childlike glee as he buys ice creams for Sheehan’s eldest child, Peggy. The film’s strongest scene involves De Niro only in passing, as he watches Pacino and Pesci tear other apart verbally. What’s more apparent isn’t what is said between them, but what isn’t, Pesci eyeing up his combatant/comrade with decisive awareness, sealing his fate not with a Godfather style family kiss, but with an empty smile.
All of which begs the question why Scorsese, the master of realism, spent so much time on de-ageing his actors through a process that serves none of them. And maybe that’s besides the point. Martin Scorsese doesn’t need a protracted runtime, an irrelevant Harvey Keitel cameo or a computerised figure of De Niro’s face to sell this movie. He’s got Pacino. And how!
❉ ‘The Irishman’ (15) Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Kathrine Narducci, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons. Running time 208m. Watch The Irishman on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80175798
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s writing has also appeared in New Sounds, Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.