The Irishman and the Art of Sitting

A Martin Scorsese film is like an old, leather wingback lounge chair: Even with its holes and flaws, it is still dependable and comfortable. His recently released The Irishman is 3 hours and 30 minutes long.

That’s a lot of sitting in front of a movie – too much for a seat in the theatre and probably at home, even if it is a comfortable leather wingback lounge chair.

Yet, despite under-editing and overindulging in Netflix-granted liberties, Scorsese produces another fascinating portrayal of early 20th century organized crime and all the hooligans who made it possible.

It is important to note that The Irishman is no “Sunshine of Your Love” accompanied, camera-dancing mobster flick with super cool slow-mo closeups of Robert De Niro grimacing in smoke-filled taverns. It is more a subdued last rites piece about American history, Jimmy Hoffa, teamster corruption, and the slow process of aging in general.

Based loosely on Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses, we follow four decades of Frank Sheeran’s (Robert De Niro) development as a truck driver nobody to the hitman for Italian mafioso boss of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and finally to the right-hand man of infamous Teamster, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Primarily set in the ‘60s, we witness the fascinating rise and fall of Hoffa, his prison term, presidential pardon and release, and all the loansharking and mob interactions in between. The transitions are narrated in flashback fashion by Sheeran in a nursing home, and there are subtle but very effective touches of CGI to “youthen” our aged veteran actors.   

By far, the best scenes involve De Niro and pulled-out-of-retirement Pesci. They are not only Goodfellas nostalgic, they reclaim the unlikely but ever so prevalent charm of buddy dialogue in a mafioso culture. (Only John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson of Pulp Fiction (1994) have come close to pulling off this kind of gangster bravado.)

Although Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa story line is the bulk of the movie, some of his events echo “docudrama” and lose the character study edge we get from De Niro and Pesci. Still, it is always a cinematic achievement to place Pacino and De Niro in the same movie, and they share many more frames together than they did in Heat (1995). (Just don’t watch Righteous Kill, 2008.)

The remarkable 20-minute denouement would have suffered an emotional disconnectedness if Scorsese chopped it into a final series episode, so I can understand the intention of a full-length feature and not a Netflix TV series. However, even for Scorsese’s brilliant eye and notorious passion for the American mob movie, The Irishman is just too long.

No matter how dependable and comfortable the old, leather wingback lounge chair, The Irishman challenges the art of sitting, but De Niro and Pesci are worth the standing applause.

The Irishman (2019) **** out of *****

I couldn’t agree more!

18 thoughts on “The Irishman and the Art of Sitting

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  1. I watched it all in one shot at home on Thanksgiving. A bit disappointing after all the hype, but it was a solid flick. I didn’t think the anti-aging tech worked well. They still walked and moved like old men when they were supposed to be 30-50. The scene where Frank “beat up” the shopkeeper looked absurd. In my opinion, the misty memory film would have worked great with DeNiro and Pesci reminiscing in prison and younger actors playing their bad selves. So what that Pacino and DeNiro never got to be bad guys together in a Scorsese film? And of course… shorter!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, an excellent analysis. Thank you, Paula. This movie is becoming more and more an unforgettable spectacle than novelty to me as time flies by. I would see Goodfellas ten more times. This one? Probably once. It won’t end up in my top ten for 2019, but I still liked its aging mobster charm. (But, you’re right: maybe a stunt double would have helped that “beat up” scene.) Thanks for writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m excited to watch this one. I watched an interview with De Niro & Pacino about this movie. I enjoyed reading your review about the “Goodfellas” nostalgic vibes. “Goodfellas” is one of those perfect movies. It’s one of my absolute favorites!!

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    1. Goodfellas is probably the best mobster film ever made. Godfather = mafia. I think there’s a difference, haha! Scorsese still packs a punch in “Irish,” but it’s a little more sluggish. Still worth the journey though, I think…

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      1. I’ll probably give it a watch sometime after the holidays. It will be good on one of those cold, winter days when I wouldn’t want to be outside doing anything productive. Those make the best movie watching days!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched just over half of it. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t watch a movie to the end. I was really disappointed and I loved Casino and Goodfellas. It just lacked an interesting story, believability (de-aging debacle), and a redeeming character. I haven’t seen Al Pacino so woeful/miscast as he was in this. Also the production was just B grade throughout. The best analogy I could think of which summarized my experience – Seeing Bobby Fischer and Boris Spasky in their unofficial World Championship chess rematch and noticing they were shadows of their former selves in terms of their quality of play.
    I am at a loss how The Irishman has received overwhelming critical praise. It was as though I was watching a dud release and everyone saw something completely different.

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    1. I think I was lucky going in with my friends’ forewarning about length and not expecting the energy of Goodfellas or Casino. I also didn’t know much about Jimmy Hoffa and his vast connections and hoodwinks with the mob and found this intriguing. Lastly, I was kind of touched by the aging and kinship of De Niro and Pesci and felt like I was watching their last run together (which, it probably will be). That being said, it is a very over-indulgent piece, and I can understand your shock at the overpraising of this movie. To me, it was barely 4 stars out of 5, but most definitely no higher. I think I brought this up with you before: I still feel utterly alone regarding Joker. I was bored out of my mind and insulted at how much of a copycat, Scorsese-wannabe it was. The worldly bowing for The Irishman is way too slanted.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was in a state of two minds about posting my thoughts about the movie on your post. I don’t like to be a downer (again!) or write something contrary to the opinion of a post-piece. I know how it can feel when someone has a contrarian opinion to mine about a song, movie or literary extract. You seem to be a mature fella and that’s why I felt comfortable sharing my honest thoughts.

        I went into it like you expecting a different kind of movie from the others you mentioned and of course I was aware of its imposing duration time. The de-aging aspect and De Nero’s contact lens threw me out of the movie time and time again. To watch De Nero moving like a 70 or so year old avenging the grocer for offending his daughter. It just looked fake.

        I can of course appreciate seeing these legends of the screen together again and it being a nostalgic send-off. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood to appreciate the tie-ins with the mob and to learn about Hoffa. I might be being too critical, but I have zero interest in giving it another go. May be one day when I have overcome my disdain for it hehe. I know, I know – harsh words.
        I really wanted to love this movie and had looked forward to seeing it for months. But I always enjoy reading your reviews and respect highly your alternative opinions.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Amen. And, I really appreciate the dialogue. That’s why I blog in the first place. Even though it is subjective and never consistent (and ever changing due to watching movies after the year they come out), I traditionally create a Top Ten of the Year, and I can tell you – without a doubt – this one will NOT be on my list. I agree with some of your critiques, and I would never revisit this movie either. I can say that I appreciated it because I think it is the final bookend for Scorsese, De Niro, and Pesci, and there were still moments of that mobster buddy charm that I enjoy only in the movies. My type of beloved film is something slight and indie like Paddleton. Did you ever see that?

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            1. It’s an odd duck of a movie with two likable buds. I recommend it if you like quirky indie films.

              Dialogue much appreciated!

              So many more movies out there to see too!

              Best to you!

              Bernie

              Like

    1. I understand, Katio! I did two hours, took a snack and bathroom break, and then finished the next hour and a half. No movie should be that long, but I’m glad I finished it. (The agonizing thought of ever watching it again is Scorsese’s fault.)

      Like

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