Martin Scorcese kicked up a storm on the Internet when his interview with the Empire magazine surfaced where he said that he doesn’t think Marvel movies are cinema. But he also clarified that he is not really trashing comic book movies but simply explaining they are not for him or his taste and temperament. So what is Scorcese’s temperament? He grew up idolising filmmakers in an era where movies were not really amusement parks but exploration into the visceral, paradoxical and incongruous features of human nature. I think Scorcese loves movies where the characters and their decisions and motivations become as important as the plot if not more. A lot of his best work is known for deep studies in the unravelling of the main protagonists and antagonists. The Irishman is all that and it is a throwback to the best period of his career, i.e., the 70s and 80s.
Deaging technology that was used in the film to make the actors look young was really weird to get used to. There is a 23 minute conversation between Martin Scorcese, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on Netflix where they discuss how movement became an important part of making the actors look young. Deaging tech can smoothen the creases and lines on the faces but all these actors who are very old in real life still had to speak and move and carry themselves in a spirited young manner. When De Niro’s character kicks a man on a pavement, it truly feels like an elderly person struggling to get his feet across. This is not a criticism because Scorcese really had no other great choice. He was dealing with a story that was spread across decades and he had three of the finest actors at his disposal.
The Irishman is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt that chronicles the life of former hitman, Frank Sheeran, and the underworld mafia of 1960s and 70s America. This is easily Scorcese territory and yet is different in so many ways. Goodfellas was a bit comical and Casino was over the top whereas The Irishman is a Greek tragedy set in the alleys and hotels of Pennsylvania. It is a character study and is very much in line with the Scorcese way of focusing on one person’s journey like the Aviator and Taxi Driver.
Joe Pesci plays a rather subdued version of his earlier gangster roles but still maintains that chilling presence. If you make a mash up of all the scenes of De Niro and Pesci in all the films they have been together then this movie seems like a fitting conclusion to their on-screen camaraderie. Pacino is the most boisterous of the three with his outbursts and hand movements while De Niro, even though he is the protagonist, seems more like a passenger on the story, a passive presence, an outsider’s perspective on the narrative. At this point of their careers, it is actually quite boring and also disrespectful to write what great actors they are. Stephen Graham (Tommy from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch) is the one actor who stands out apart from the three. Robbie Robertson is a long-time collaborator with Scorcese and his score is quite mournful but also a delightful mix of Pink Flyod-esque guitar tunes and old timey Western music, especially with the mouthorgan. The true mark of all great films is when the end credits roll and you still keep on listening to the music and ponder about the performances you just watched.
Scorcese chose Netflix because at three and a half hours long, it gives him the creative control to pace it the way he wants to. I had to finish it in two sittings but never did I feel the need to check the running time. Also Scorcese is totally fed up with comic book franchise movies taking over multiplexes.