Editor's note: This article is the second of seven film reviews that are The Daily staff's top picks from the 92nd Academy Awards nominees. The final results will be announced at the annual ceremony, streaming at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 on ABC Network.
“I heard you paint houses,” Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa says on one end of a phone line, almost as a question.
“Yes. Yes, sir, I... I do,” a middle-aged Frank Sheeran responds, unaware of exactly where this road of “house painting” will lead him and what it will cost him.
“The Irishman” is Martin Scorsese’s latest addition to a large collection of mob movies.
The film received a whopping 10 Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod and two Supporting Actor nominations for Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, as well as nominations for visual effects, adapted screenplay (from the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt), directing and editing, among many more.
Sporting a three-hour-and-29-minute runtime and bolstered with modern de-aging visual effects, “The Irishman” follows a real man, through his version of his real story, which spans decades and concerns one of the most notable missing persons cases from the last century.
The plot of the film follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a former soldier who served in World War II that finds himself serving the needs of the Italian mob in Philadelphia. At the request of Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel), Sheeran becomes the personal bodyguard of Teamsters Union president, Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
As with previous projects, Scorsese made it a priority to tell the story of Frank Sheeran with one of his best collaborators, De Niro. In a production journey that spans nearly as long as Frank Sheeran’s mob involvement, Scorsese was finally able to tell the story his way, courtesy of a generous production budget from Netflix.
The director’s involvement with Netflix has large implications for the future of the streaming service — last year’s “Roma,” courtesy of Alfonso Cuarón, gave Netflix its first real foothold in the Academy Awards as a serious competitor. With “The Irishman’s” critical and audience success, more high-profile filmmakers are likely to turn to Netflix when it needs funding for riskier or more expensive projects. Similarly, Netflix will continue its push to gain awards and become an established name among the likes of Disney, Universal, A24 and more.
When the Academy Awards show begins on Feb. 9, “The Irishman” is likely to win more than a few awards. While the film is worthy of recognition and praise, it also marks an important point in film history and Scorsese's career. The film’s journey parallels that of Frank Sheeran — a lifetime of work culminating in a single point.
Based on critical and awards reception, it would appear all the time and effort put into the film by Scorsese and company has been worth it.
It is understandable that the film would receive nominations, particularly for screenplay, acting and visual effects. Scorsese, having established himself as a crucial filmmaker and innovator, is often held to high expectations. As an audience, it is always refreshing to see those expectations met and — in the case of “The Irishman” — exceeded.
On a visual level, the de-aging effects are initially a bit jarring. De Niro no longer looks 40, and Pesci definitely does not look like the 60-year-old he is supposed to be. However, after the introduction of the younger forms of characters, it is less noticeable that the viewer is watching 70- to 90-year-old men on screen. The only time the true age of the actors becomes apparent is in action scenes, when the disguised old men must pretend to have the bodies and athleticism of 40- to 60-year olds, which they clearly do not.
The film’s considerable runtime has been a point of contention for longtime fans and would-be viewers. Three and a half hours, while a short summary of a man’s complex life story, is a lot to ask of a modern audience. Some viewers have made helpful guides as to how to watch the film as though it were a mini-series, though the pacing of the movie is quite deliberate.
The plot takes its time to bring the audience into the rationale of Sheeran, to understand his character and the complex history of the mob and the Teamsters Union of the '50s and '60s, and the alienating choices Sheeran makes on the way.
The length of the film, combined with the tone, writing, editing and real-world production timeline, all compound to give the film a sort of inevitability. Scorsese, with the help of other talented cast and crew members, emphasizes that sometimes the story is just as important as the moral.
The Daily staff's full list of reviews from the 92nd Academy Awards nominations: