Let’s start with an opening statement, the topic of which has been more of a distraction than anything else surrounding the release of The Irishman. No, I’m not talking about the quality of the de-aging effects, or the fact that the film may or may not get Academy Awards attentiondue to Netflix bias. You know what I’m talking about, and guess what? Martin Scorsese is right about Marvel, and honestly, who gives a flying fuck?
So one guy, admittedly this guy is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, doesn’t like superhero movies? I realize that this may hurt some egos but hey, I don’t like musicals, or Tom Hooper, and Cats is still a thing. He’s right, MCU movies don’t take traditional risks, no one stays dead, time travel sorts everything, and Captain Marvel’s power became a plot problem than convenience, but Endgame was still awesome anyway. If we wanted risks, again I mean in the traditional sense, then we can watch The Dark Knight Trilogy, or Logan, or even the Scorsese rip-off that is Joker. Plus, the whole thing was probably a PR stunt, and it worked a treat, I’ve spent this whole opening paragraph on it.
Now, let’s talk about The Irishman.
Except I can’t talk about The Irishman without this supposed controversy, because what lies within it is the most delightful of ironies: The Irishman is by far Martin Scorsese’s least risky film. Isn’t that hilarious? I know, it doesn’t sound right, but lets look at the facts. Counting Goodfellas, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman is the fourth time that the director has made this specific type of film.
In no traditional way does this film take risks. It’s made by a director who is at the top of his game (especially considering his last film was the fantastic, and extremely risky, Silence), it’s packed to the rafters with acting talent: we have De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, Keitel, half the cast of Boardwalk Empire, Ray fucking Romano, the cinematography and editing, the costume design and period detail, the soundtrack. All of these different aspects coalesce into what is a really great movie. But, by Marty’s standards, it’s not risky.And again I say: who gives a fuck? Certainly not me, because, risky or not, game changing or not, no one can do this type of story like Martin Scorsese.
What The Irishman is at its heart is a great story well told: the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a lonely old man who recounts to us his life as a hit man for the mafia and his contentious friendship with the legendary Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). It’s a story that spans decades, with bloodshed and great dialogue, told by a man who has outlived everyone else because he did what he was told. The film has style to spare; though, at a whopping three and half hour,s it feels more like a miniseries. For three of those hours you get what you would expect from a film like this. Much like Goodfellas, The Irishman can be simply described as a shit-load of montages punctuated by some extended dialogue, yet nothing is wasted. Scorsese is an old hand at guiding us through the years of these bad men, and we already know that – but it’s in the film’s epilogue that The Irishman really sets itself apart.
Up until this point everything seems familiar, without risk to belabor a point. Then Frank finishes his story, his life, his choices, his regrets, laid out for us, but Scorsese doesn’t roll credits just yet. From here, and indeed retroactively the whole film, The Irishman shows its hand. It wasn’t a gangster film after all – at least not entirely, it’s a film about aging, about how living longer inevitably leads to more loss that gain. It’s a profound statement about what constitutes as a legacy – do you even have one if you’re the only one left to know it?
So, maybe The Irishman is a risky film. In the days where a Scorsese-influenced movie has to be about the Joker to even get made, never mind making an obscene amount of money, who else but the man himself could get a film like this made? So, maybe the Marvel comments make more sense. Maybe he’s afraid that, like Frank, he’s going to be the only one left who remembers the old days. But, with the critical response to The Irishman so passionate, I think he’ll be alright. And hell, even if James Gunn was hurt, he would still recommend Taxi Driver to anyone.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via The Wall Street Journal)