Analysis Reviews

Shoddy De-Aging Can’t Derail Masterful Storytelling in Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN

**Note: The following article contains spoilers for the Netflix original film, The Irishman.

Hey there everyone, Bryan Tann here again, and I’m going to be reviewing the latest Netflix original by the legendary Martin Scorsese. The Irishman  debuted on November 27, 2019 with all-star cast that includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.  

This movie is three-and-a-half hours long, so I am not going to break down the entire film note for note for note. That’s too many damn notes for one review so I am going to go with my overall thoughts on the film.  

For the young folks out there who don’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was, this is a movie that you should watch. Then, turn around and watch the Jack Nicholson classic Hoffa. I grew up after Jimmy Hoffa “went missing” and I heard a lot of the ‘Hoffa’ jokes running around. When the mob was going to make someone ‘disappear’ there were references to Jimmy Hoffa. There was a long-time myth that Jimmy Hoffa was buried under the old Meadowlands Stadium where the New York Giants and Jets played. There was even an episode of the Simpsons where a football player tripped over an obviously buried body and it was indicated that it was Jimmy Hoffa.  

While this film focuses on Frank Sheeran, the titular Irishman, played by Robert De Niro, this is also a Jimmy Hoffa/Al Pacino film. For those that don’t know, Frank Sheeran is the man that admitted on his deathbed that he killed Jimmy Hoffa. This confession was published a year after Sheeran’s death in a book by Charles Brandt titled I Heard You Paint Houses (2003), which is the basis of this film. Since the book was released, these claims have been disputed by several other publications.

This film comes hot off the heels of Scorsese’s criticism of MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films, stating that they “Aren’t real cinema.” I have to say this in that regard: they’re a different type of cinema than the films that Scorsese makes. That doesn’t make them better or worse–just different.

The one thing I appreciate about Scorsese is that he tells an amazing story. The dialogue is so genuine, and there are times when I watch his movies and I feel like he is taking me back in time and putting me right where he wants me to be. In Gangs of New York, I was in Civil War-era New York. In The Departed, I was in that fictitious Boston. Goodfellas? I was there. Time after time, he manages to put you right there in the time period he wants. As a director, he pulls the greatest performances out of his actors each and every time.

The Irishman continues this trend. However, it also screws up quite a bit also. The de-aging technology, for example, did not work for me. We were told that the younger Frank Sheeran, again played by Robert De Niro, would look like a young Vito Corleone, who De Niro also played. However, “Young” De Niro looked just like De Niro, only with painted-on black hair, and hideous blue-looking eyes that don’t make him look young at all. Each time Joe Pesci, who played Russell Bufalino (head of the Bufalino crime family), refers to De Niro as “kid,” I wanted to laugh because he looks nothing like a kid. Hell, even Joe Pesci looks even older than usual in this movie. The de-aging was an absolute travesty!

It’s impossible in anyway to mistake any form of Robert De Niro as a young man. The scene where a “young” Frank beats up a grocer looks horrible. His kick made him look like an old man about to lazily attempt to look like he’s going to slip and fall on an invisible marble. Its bad. Its very bad. When Frank is moving, during his “young days” he looks old, clunky, and just terrible.

Otherwise, I loved this movie. I loved the pacing; I loved the story telling; I loved the performances. The narrative exposition does an amazing job at not making it all sound too heavy and clunky. This is a masterful trademark that Scorsese employs, and it never fails. It keeps the audience so involved and ingrained in this world.  

A lot of people have criticized this film because of the lack of lines given to Anna Paquin, who plays Frank Sheeran’s daughter Peggy. Originally, I felt the same way, but then I realized that this could be deliberate. He didn’t do it to disrespect Paquin or Peggy Sheeran. This was to keep her completely separated from not only Frank and Russell but also to create distance from the audience. We are learning Frank’s story. We are a part of Frank’s narrative. Peggy had separated herself from Frank a long time before this, so it’s natural that she would be separated from us since Frank is the POV character. This was artfully done. Just because someone has a famous name, doesn’t mean that they need to have a ton of dialogue for their character to be impactful.  

In the Plotaholics film rating, I give Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman a one-shot rating. You need that one-shot to keep yourself from being distracted from this powerful story by the horrible use of de-aging technology, and the dialogue that supports it.

The Irishman is streaming on Netflix.

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