One of the great draws of the thug life in cinema are the beguiling portrayals of violence, status or money. Even when the protagonists aren’t glorified, it’s hard to deny the appeal – they may be a monsters, but they’re larger than life. Having defined the genre like no other with movies like Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino, director Martin Scorsese is no stranger to the criminal allure – yet his latest, The Irishman, has a distinctly different feel. Rather than an allegory on power, loyalty and family, it’s a tale of betrayal, alienation and regret. Scorsese has aged. And so have his characters.
This picture almost didn’t make it to the screen: When Scorsese pitched it a decade ago, studios weren’t interested, until Netflix eventually allowed the director to make his longest film to date. Following professional hitman Frank Sheeran’s career with the mob and subsequent partnership with infamous teamster Jimmy Hoffa, The Irishman chronicles four decades of American history through the titular Frank’s eyes, from the Cuban missile crisis to the Kennedy assassination to Watergate.
Choices leave their marks
The settings are familiar – the rainy, moonlit streets of Little Italy, the bright lights of night clubs and the not-so-glamorous prison yards. However, the context has changed. Unlike Goodfellas’ opulent excess or the shallow glamour of Casino, The Irishman is far more introspective, a sober reminder that life and its choices leave their marks – the solitude of guilt, the pain of estrangement and the inevitability of death. But despite the many tragedies Sheeran has seen and caused, it is losing his daughter Peggy’s affection that hurts him the most: Frank’s futile pursuit of Peggy’s forgiveness leaves him isolated and rejected.
Told in just under three-and-a-half hours, Scorsese ingeniously juggles three narratives with cut-aways, voice-overs, freeze frames and tight editing, keeping your attention throughout the long runtime. For leads Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino – digitally de-aged for the early scenes in the plot – the film is a return to form, with all three finding nuance and emotion in roles they’ve come to personify over their long careers.
In life as in film, age begets wisdom –and both Scorsese and his cast have clearly grown. Same setting. Same People. New Story.