De Niro a hit in mob masterpiece

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in The Irishman (IMDB)

In The Irishman, director Martin Scorsese teams up with some of his favourite actors to create a landmark film that details half a century of criminal and political history. Source: ACOFB.

At 210 minutes, The Irishman explores the Kennedy era, including the election of John F. Kennedy and the conflicting influence of powers between Kennedy’s father and the Mafia. It also portrays the hostility (especially to Attorney General Robert Kennedy) of the Teamsters union, led by Jimmy Hoffa. The action continues into the Nixon era, showing campaign politicking and the infamous Watergate scandal. Later sequences occur in the 1990s and into the beginning of the 21st-century.

And, the Irishman himself? He was Frank Sheeran (1920-2003 – worth Googling, especially for basic information in Wikipedia). After war service, he encountered Russell Bufalino and he became the Irish member of the Italian Bufalino crime family. At times a hitman, friend of Jimmy Hoffa, working for the Teamsters.

The framework of the film is Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in a nursing home, visited by his daughter and reminiscing about his life.

De Niro has excelled himself in Scorsese films (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas). This is his creative variation on the gangster character, often frowning, less often smiling, an opportunist, betraying loyalties, an interestingly complex character.

Joe Pesci has also appeared in Scorsese films, winning an Oscar for Goodfellas. He delivers a more restrained performance here but nonetheless sinister and influential.

Al Pacino had not worked with Scorsese but here, as Jimmy Hoffa, chewing the scenery and others remorselessly, he steals the show when he is on screen.

In recent times, Scorsese has gone back to religious themes, especially, of course, in Silence. The Irishman is not just a portrait of Frank Sheeran as a criminal. It is a portrait of a man who has sinned but has not really repented – he does not seem to know how. As an Irish Catholic, sacraments recur thematically throughout the film. There’s even a cameo from Scorsese’s Jesuit friend and adviser, Fr James Martin SJ.

Reviewers and audiences are calling The Irishman “a masterpiece”. Who are we to quibble?

Reviewed by Fr Peter Malone MSC, ACOFB

The Irishman: US, 2019. Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Jack Huston, Paul Ben-Victor, Barry Primus, Gary Basaraba. Directed by Martin Scorsese. 210 minutes. Rated MA (Strong violence and coarse language)

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The Irishman (ACOFB)

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