Tom Augustine wraps up the weekend in film
It's strange to think that a film by cinematic master Martin Scorsese - one that unites three of the most iconic actors of a generation (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci) - might find itself relegated to Netflix release following a brief stint in theatres. It's a situation that reflects the complex state of modern cinema in stark terms. After all, The Irishman (R13), like all Scorsese releases, is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. A three-and-a-half hour crime epic, it traverses the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a war veteran and truck driver who finds himself drawn into the world of the mob, working as a hitman for crime lord Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and becoming a friend and confidante of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) at the height of his union-forged powers.
Scorsese, reunited with De Niro and Pesci, works with Pacino for the first time but The Irishman is no Goodfellas or Casino rehash. Indeed, it shares more with the doom-laden later seasons of The Sopranos than the high-octane energy of those other Scorsese crime flicks. As a veteran of the screen trade, Scorsese's earned the chance to take his time with his characters and his storytelling so the film moves, intentionally, at a markedly slower pace than is perhaps expected of this film-maker.
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It's about ageing, regret and decay; employing state-of-the-art "de-ageing" technology to allow its actors, now in their 70s, to play much younger men, creates a strange distancing effect, adding to the hypnotic feeling of an old man looking back on his life.
Of the actors, it's hard to choose a stand-out. All three turn in their best work in many years. Pesci plays compellingly against-type; his Bufalino is a soft-spoken, warm-faced mafioso, eager to find a way out of sticky situations that avoids bloodshed. Pacino, meanwhile, is a compelling portrait of hubris, imbuing the real-life Hoffa with a tragic arc of stubbornness and pride that ultimately leads to his own tragic undoing. But it's De Niro who lands the knockout punches here - particularly in The Irishman's final hour, when the karmic force of Sheeran's choices begins to catch up with him. De Niro's Sheeran is a shell of a man, whose empty gaze and remorseless duty-killings untether him from his very soul. It's a pitch perfect performance.
Scorsese's films are grand events in the classical sense - big, energetic and weighty things to be mulled over, considered and enjoyed like a feast or fine wine. The Irishman's presence on Netflix has made it accessible to a broad audience, immediately. Though I'd still say if you're not seeing it in a theatre, you're missing out.
Rating: Five stars.