I Heard You Like Good Movies

13 Nov

The Irishman - Robert De NiroLet’s get this out of the way: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is a long movie. Three and a half hours long. That’s longer than Avengers: Endgame. Watching it legitimately feels like binging four episodes of a Netflix limited series.

But is it any good? Hell yeah, it is.

Based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses — that’s the title that’s actually shown on the screen — The Irishman covers 50 years in the life of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a real-life World War II veteran and meat-truck driver who, in the 1950s, meets Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), the soft-spoken head of a mafia crime family. We watch as Sheeran climbs the ranks of the mob, becoming a hitman and fixer before meeting and becoming a close friend to teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). And then, as it usually does, everything goes south.

But that’s not where the story ends. The movie is framed largely in flashback, as Sheeran sits in a nursing home, telling his story to an unknown listener, wrestling with his conscience and guilt for the things he’s done. The message being, forget these mafia guys; nothing kills like old age. “You don’t know how fast time goes by till you get there,” Sheeran says. Left alone to think about his life, we see the effect such actions can have on a person, especially when they outlive their sins.

Scorsese, working with an excellent script by Steven Zaillian, tells an ambitious, epic, and sometimes amusing story that covers decades of mob history, showing how influential these criminal figures were in both political and social circles, and how Hoffa may have ultimately been whacked by his own trusted confidantes. (Then again, since no one knows for sure how Hoffa died, this could be complete conjecture.)

Filled with many of the tropes and themes fans have come to love from Scorsese films, including long tracking shots, classic tunes, plenty of violence, and yes, that cast, The Irishman is certainly an indulgent film. Freed from the constraints of a traditional studio, the director lets his story breathe — sometimes too much — and lets his first-rate actors really dig in.

All the players are great, of course (including Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, and even “Little Steven” Van Zandt, in a small role), but special mention must go to Joe Pesci, who practically steals the film. It’s so great to see cousin Vinny acting again, and alongside De Niro for the first time since 1995’s Casino. I expect we’ll be seeing Pesci making more than one trip to the podium to accept a trophy this awards season.

Also notable is Anna Paquin, who as Sheeran’s daughter, Peggy, doesn’t get a lot to say, but says everything she needs to in the looks of anger and contempt she has for her father. Peggy knows her father is a bad man, and won’t pretend she hasn’t seen what he’s done. (And yet, she loves Hoffa. Hmmmmm …)

Despite its length, Scorsese keeps the action moving at a good pace. Even at 209 minutes, this movie is never boring. That said, watching The Irishman at home may actually be the preferred way to see it because you can treat it like a binge and take a break between “episodes” (can’t believe I actually said that).

Regardless of how you choose to watch The Irishman, though, Scorsese’s latest is definitely a must-see. I’m giving it a B+

(The Irishman is in theaters now. It debuts on Netflix on November 27.)

4 Responses to “I Heard You Like Good Movies”

  1. andrew November 16, 2019 at 5:56 pm #

    “because you can treat it like a binge and take a break between “episodes” (can’t believe I actually said that).” What? Break? No way. That’s like taking a break during Schindler’s list. You just don’t. Next, you’ll be using your cell phone to text during the 1 extra hour of previews. Just saying.


  1. In Theaters or Streaming, These Netflix Movies Are Well Worth Seeing | Martin's Musings - November 25, 2019

    […] Martin Scorsese would probably never have been able to make a three-and-a-half-hour epic like The Irishman the way he wanted to make it. Likewise, Alfonso Cuarón was able to be indulgent in his own ways […]

  2. No Matter How You See Them, These Movies from 2019 Are Worth Remembering | Martin's Musings - December 30, 2019

    […] The Irishman […]

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