I usually have nothing against movie production and distribution by the primary streaming services, for better or worse, that is today’s ground reality, except in 2019, it was terribly wrong concerning The Irishman.
Martin Scorsese‘s masterpiece had poor distribution in a few theaters for a few weeks, only to remain on Netflix, where a good chunk of the audience did not appreciate it at all.
That’s a shame for this crime epic that chronicles the most important moments in the life of Frank Sheeran, a World War II veteran who later became a truck driver until he crosses the path of Russell Bufalino, mob boss, with whom he strikes up a relationship of loyalty and friendship.
Bufalino introduces him to the organized crime world, teaching him the workings and rules of that sub-economy, while Sheeran reciprocates with his allegiance by performing every task possible, from collecting debts to even committing hired killings.
Everything changes forever when Jimmy Hoffa, a powerful truckers’ union leader, comes into his life; with Sheeran, he immediately establishes a deep bond, trying to cover his back while sailing through turbulent waters.
Sheeran becomes even more powerful at his side, passing decade after decade between major American events such as the tragic Bay of Pigs or the assassination of President John Kennedy.
Sadly, after Hoffa’s arrest and five-year sentence, everyone else in the syndicate and the Mafia family behind it want to get rid of him, seeing his presence as useless and unwieldy since he always tries to get in the way of the gang’s various rackets.
At that point, Sheeran’s loyalty is tested, pitting his affiliation with the Bufalino family against his relationship with Hoffa, who is in constant conflict with the gangsters, until the inevitable decision that this Irishman cannot avoid making.
Does anyone really find Scorsese boring?
Let us immediately address the voice of criticism directed at The Irishman in 2019, which was particularly intense among those who preferred to watch the movie on streaming.
The most frequent observation complained of its excessive length; however, it is crucial to note that in just under three and a half hours, screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Charles Brandt, under Scorsese’s direction, handled to condense a full-bodied and essential segment of American crime and political news.
Recalling the words of Sergio Leone, who was equally criticized for the length of his last movie and cinematic testament, “Once Upon a Time in America,” every film is long only until it becomes boring, a danger that never happens in this case.
I find it difficult to understand such criticism, especially from Netflix audiences, who we know well devote entire hours or days to marathons of their favorite series.
However, I partially accept the criticism of the use of CGI to rejuvenate the cast, which is convincing only in certain aspects.
Although the visual effect is impressive, the physical movements of over 70 actors sometimes come across as quite clumsy and obvious.
However, this aspect is secondary to the director’s majestic narrative ability and the brisk pace with which he paints decades of history through swift and perfect editing.
No character or sequence appears superfluous or introduced merely to create an emotional shock or to evoke postwar nostalgia.
Every single minute of these three and a half hours is a piece with which Scorsese builds the symbolic construction of the American myth, unfortunately resting on the foundation of criminal violence.
Is it possible that, in truth, behind all the controversy is the fact that many patriots did not like such a representation?
The usual faces of crime, though always different
Robert De Niro molds another unforgettable character in Scorsese’s cinematic universe with Frank Sheeran, a multifaceted protagonist.
At first glance, reserved and tame, he proves capable of unleashing sudden and surprising violence; shaped by a wartime past, he confesses to Bufalino in a cruel manner but with a touch of romance.
Alongside him, despite his diminutive stature, we find another cinematic pillar: Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, who stands as Sheeran’s guide and protector, catapulting him to the top of the criminal world.
A bond founded on respect and affection, but not without elements of manipulation and deception, especially when it comes to organizing Hoffa’s assassination.
Embodying the tormented and controversial union leader is an actor of equal magnificence, Al Pacino, whose performance is simply magnetic and completely dominates every scene in which he appears.
He is an explosive personality for a man who is tenacious, cunning, and uncompromising, although, at times, he can appear as headstrong and naive as a spoiled child.
These three individuals dominate much of the plot. De Niro also serves as the narrator’s voice, weaving together the many historical events.
But the supporting cast also deserves praise, of which I would particularly like to mention the three main underworld bosses of the era.
The unsurpassed Harvey Keitel plays the fearsome Angelo Bruno, almost a brother to Bufalino, with whom, however, he does not always share the line of action.
Equally charismatic is Domenick Lombardozzi as the expansive and gigantic “Fat Tony” Salerno, one of the most feared men in America at the time.
Finally, I cannot fail to mention the naughty Stephen Graham as “Tony Pro” Provenzano, the man who would prove to be Hoffa’s most bitter enemy and his antagonist in the race for union president.