CRIMEWATCH: The Irishman

Director Martin Scorsese has re-assembled a star-studded cast of bad boy screen legends—almost all of whom are now in their seventies (!), and created an epic life review: a remorseless look back at one man’s unexpected “career” as an integral part of an Italian crime family’s inner workings, illicit activities, and deadly deeds.

Robert De Niro is Frank Sheeran, a war vet who makes his living delivering meat to warehouses. A serendipitous encounter with mafia king pin Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) reveals both Frank’s acumen and loyalty: traits essential for consideration by the Mob.

It’s Frank’s work for the mob, carefully choreographed assassinations actually, that brings him into close proximity with organized crime-associated Teamster Union president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Hoffa is both admired and feared, but Frank’s laid-back pragmatism opens a window behind which Hoffa can relax and appreciate Frank, his new, self-serving confidant.

Every single scene in The Irishman, is a picture-perfect postcard; with subtly different color pallets representing different periods of time. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto delivers a down-to-the-dust-on-the-side-table collection of true-to-life images; screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) presents an intricate, violent and unromantic narrative; and director/producer Martin Scorsese effectively presents the revised concerns of the elderly and infirm.

Based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” (code for “I heard you kill people”), The Irishman, even at a much-talked-about three and a half hours long, is packed with fulfilling accoutrements. There’s De Niro’s reporter-like voiceover narrative; Pacino’s signature intensity and bombast; sightings of real-life people from the period—mobster “Crazy” Joe Gallo, President John F. Kennedy; and a thrilling sea of character actors who have the distinct and special faces of a time gone by.

Grand in scope—fifty years in the lives of our protagonists: 1949—2000, the Irishman posits a series of devastating questions. What will you think of your life when you know you only have a limited time left? Were you ever really in control of your destiny—or did you just “end up wherever the wind blew you?” And, if the people closest to you never respected you, never understood you, never really knew you: were any of the emotional connections in your life real?

The Irishman is a film to see once, digest, talk about, and see again. Essential.

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Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including “Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide” (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television.

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