Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin
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From the opening tracking shot and accompanying song – a la Mean Streets – we are reminded that we’re in vintage Martin Scorsese territory here. But the self-referential elements are sparing, appropriate and – like everything else about this phenomenal movie – pitch-perfect. It’s a rollicking good yarn which evolves and slows down into something nuanced and emotionally intense, becoming even better in the process.
Robert De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a WWII veteran who goes to work for the Mafia. (“I heard you paint houses”, one of his Mob superiors euphemistically says.) It’s one of the finest and most riveting portrayals in his career. The action unfolds at different points in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies (the much-heralded “de-aging” works fine, incidentally), and the period detail is spot-on, but it’s the less tangible strengths – a cumulative sense of gravitas, for instance – which impress most.
The less you know about the plot going in the better. Suffice to say that if you’re familiar with the story of Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), you’ll be able to imagine some of the contending forces at play, and the elements of suspense. As depicted here, Hoffa is garrulous, stubborn and somewhat neurotic yet charismatic, and Pacino makes the contradictions believable.
The Irishman is exciting and a visual delight, and also a brilliant character study; above all, it’s a late triumph. Everyone and everything in it is great: cinematography, acting (especially by De Niro and Pacino), dialogue, music, Scorsese’s direction, you name it… It’s his best film since Raging Bull. Do not miss it.