THE IRISHMAN directed by Martin Scorsese (USA, 2019)

Will there be mobster movies in heaven? If so, Martin Scorsese is sure to be the director. Of course, he’d insist on there being an afterlife ban on watching his work on mobile phones and would personally see to it that any films based on Marvel comics were cast into the fiery pits of hell. Netflix would be allowed through the pearly gates as a reward for stumping up the cash for his latest movie.

I find it ironic that Scorsese is now keen to dictate what and how we should be consuming movies in the 21st century.  He is quick to mount his moral high horse even though the charge of glamorizing unscrupulous criminals and cold-blooded killers is one he would be hard pressed to dismiss. I’m sure Mafia members are among his biggest fans.

‘The Irishman’ is a true crime caper in a similar vein to ‘Goodfellas’ (1990) .  Like that movie, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci have starring roles and the same narrative technique of a start to finish voiceover is deployed. This is a device I usually find irritating and this film is no exception. I believe a story should speak for itself in cinematic terms rather than relying on a constant running commentary.

The tale is told by hit man Frank Sheeran (De Niro) as he nears the end of his life (aged 83). He recalls being employed by the seedy  Russell Bufalino (Pesci) whose most notable client was the corrupt labor union leader Jimmi Hoffa (Al Pacino).

The 2004 book of the film is entitled ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ and was penned by Charles Brandt. The author claims his story is more fact than fiction although the truth surrounding Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975 remains a mystery. The movie shows a plausable version of what might have happened to him but this is still conjecture.

‘Painting houses’ turns out to be a polite term for splattering walls with the blood and brains of murdered victims. Euphemisms are the preferred way of drawing a discrete veil of  the protagonists’ uglier activities. When Sheeran repeatedly tells Hoffa “It is what it is”, the latter knows that he’s in the shit from upsetting too many of the wrong people.

Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro

Actors and director discuss life without the de-aging software

This kind of double-speak is tailor-made for parody but these seasoned actors play everything straight. By now they could all play these kind of roles in their sleep .

De Niro is the master of portraying bottled-up rage and hardly needs to say his lines to convey his feelings.  But he’s no spring chicken anymore; no longer the handsome devil that once graced Taxi Driver or Godfather II.  This is why the making of this movie relies so heavily on visual effects. The latest software enables the three main actors (all now in their late 70s) to be magically de-aged.

However, despite the wonders of innovative technology, the movie still has an old-fashioned feel. It comes over as an indulgent  ‘one more for the road’ outing;  motivated more by nostalgia than any desire to expose the links between politics and organised crime.

After a bum-numbing 209 minutes, there’s no escaping the conclusion that we’ve seen all this before, back when the stars didn’t need to be digitally polished to be credible.  In other words, it is what it is but not what it once was.