irishman title card

Despite protests to the contrary and the little fact that director Martin Scorsese is just a few weeks away from the first shooting day on his next feature film, The Irishman feels like a closing statement. Of course, it is a final word of sorts. Just as there was no good reason for Clint Eastwood to return to the Western after the elegy of Unforgiven, Scorsese’s career-long circling back to hoods, hustlers, and gangsters reaches its natural stopping point. The tragic waste of life of the criminal lifestyle has always been central to Scorsese’s overarching thesis, and The Irishman makes the rueful understanding of that explicit, from introducing side characters with the accompaniment of instant onscreen explanations of the sordid demises awaiting them to the thick fog of loneliness the engulfs the elderly, decrepit Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as he recounts his immoral history. Scorsese’s usual dynamic is toned down to match the story’s more somber tone. The visual remain arresting and the editing of mainstay Thelma Schoonmaker is no less skillful, but everything is more measured, more considered. The filmmaker who often reached out and shook audiences instead leans back and lets the viewer come to him, inviting a different sort of immersion in the world. Maybe the key to understanding the potency of The Irishman is the acting of Joe Pesci, as Philadelphia crime boss Russell Bufalino. The livewire fury that typified previous Pesci performances is almost entirely absent, replaced by a sturdy calmness that signals the endless trials of keeping these illicit operations afloat. The procession of moral compromises is like taking the single sheet of paper that is a life and ripping it half and then ripping those halves in half and over and over again, until all that’s left is a pile of ragged shreds.

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