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Monday, December 2, 2019


(Robert de Niro & Anna Paquin)

One of the best reasons to get Netflix is to gain access to movies like Martin Scorsese’s latest mob drama, a sombre three-and-a-half-hour masterpiece that isn’t a minute too long. (10/10. Review by Patrick Compton)

You may not be happy with the Netflix philosophy, which allows only the briefest of windows for its movies in the cinema before they are transferred to the small screen. For example, the Cannes Film Festival’s organisers refuse to screen Netflix-owned movies because they believe the streaming giant will ultimately kill cinema.

I’m sympathetic to their point of view, but the fact of the matter is that if you insist on only watching films on the big screen (indubitably the best way for all sorts of reasons), you won’t see the likes of Roma and The Irishman. Sometimes, life is too short to have too many principles.

Like Roma, The Irishman is a magnificent film, perhaps the 76-year-old Scorsese’s final major offering, bringing together Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci and – for the first time in a Scorsese movie – Al Pacino in a film that paints the life of mobsters in his most sombre colours yet.

Scorsese begins the film with a tracking shot down the corridor of an old age home, finally ending up with a close-up of an arthritic, grizzled Frank Sheeran (De Niro) who begins narrating his personal history of whackings in the service of various mob bosses.

This includes his mentor, mob boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci) to whom he owes his career, not to mention his life on various occasions. It also includes his slightly less illegitimate employer, Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the (real-life) legendary boss of the Teamsters truckers union who eventually “disappeared” after a colourful career.

The Irishman is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses (mob jargon for acknowledging a hitman) by Charles Brandt that purports to tell the true story about Sheeran’s life as well as his links to Hoffa, various crime families, the Kennedys, and even events such as the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

The film is shot in flashback, either in Sheeran's voice-over or to the camera, as we learn how the World War 2 veteran began life as a meat-packing truck driver before moving on to become Hoffa’s “muscle” and a hitman.

It would be impossible to do justice to the film’s detail, themes and execution without writing a much longer review, but I would like to mention three points that struck me most forcibly.

First is Thelma Schoonmaker’s remarkable feat of editing. Schoonmaker, who has edited all Scorsese’s films since Raging Bull, is the widow of the great English filmmaker Michael (Red Shoes) Powell and she imposes a miracle of almost contemplative pacing and structure to this movie.

Second is the rehabilitation of De Niro who, after coasting for years in a series of nothing films, gives a performance that ranks with those he gave in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

Finally, it is striking how the film treats its personal and public themes. Without giving too much away, Sheeran is almost passively judged throughout his life via a series of penetrating, melancholy glances by his daughter Peggy (brilliantly played as a kid by Lucy Gallina and as an adult by Anna Paquin) leading to the film’s devastating conclusion. By way of contrast, the film shows just how corruption seethes beneath the so-called acceptable face of public America.

The Band’s Robbie Robertson provides the expert score and viewers cannot help but be struck by the movie’s key song, In the Still of the Night, by The Five Satins.

So, if you haven’t got Netflix, make sure you hammer on the door of someone who does (preferably with a big “small” screen) to watch this truly great late offering from Scorsese.

The Irishman has been screening on Netflix since November 27. – Patrick Compton