Movie Review: "The Irishman"
I’m okay calling The Irishman a good movie. I won’t roll my eyes if it gets an Oscar nomination. I’m just not sure why the filmmakers went through the trouble of turning the Frank Sheeran-Jimmy Hoffa story into a $159 million, 3.5 hour film that underwent various postponements and that took pains to lure Joe Pesci out of retirement. And for what? The film works as a well-crafted docudrama — a history (and even that’s being challenged) — but there’s not much of a story to it, and when I say “story,” I’m talking about the things that compel us, rivet us, transform, enlighten, and enrich us when we watch a movie. Or that just make us feel. I'm not sure I felt anything. Rather, I saw things. I saw a series of characters who, in the 3.5-hour runtime, didn’t change in any substantial way. I saw a random series of cold-blooded murders of side characters who I could hardly keep track of. (Why Scorsese decided to dramatically document the date of their deaths with text boxes is unclear to me.) I saw a bunch of characters driven almost entirely by their quest for money and power, which are driving forces that make for dull storytelling. I saw a bunch of pointless cameos (Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale) for roles that could have been suitably filled by some newcomer who'd love to be in a Scorsese film. I didn’t see any pathos or emotional character arcs. I’m not sure what the movie had to say, or if it even tried to say anything. The fact that this story is arguably historically insignificant doesn't help things.
The Irishman could have worked as an enlightening second-half-of-the-twentieth-century mafia movie (in which we interestingly get to see how Mafia 2.0 interacts with government, how they carry out assassinations, how their business interests have evolved with a changing world, not to mention the always-fun tough guy codes, the fun subtle tough guy threats, and the fun tough guy beating a grocer nearly to death for nudging his daughter), but Scorsese already did that with Goodfellas and Casino. I wasn’t a fan of Hugo or Silence, but at least Scorsese was trying something different. The Irishman is warmed leftovers that took years and a lot of money to make.
I think of all the movies that could have been, and need to be, made with a $159 million budget. Why not tell the story of John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid? Why not adapt the Native Alaskan Two Old Ladies story into a movie? The English Kinder Scout mass trespass? The Monkey Wrench Gang? A biopic of Thoreau? I love all the old mob movies as much as the next guy, but I think they should go the way of the Western, and go away.