Praying that we see ourselves as God sees us has all the weighty guilt of a confession in “The Irishman”. ” The Irishman” is director Martin Scorsese’s best film to date~ “The Godfather” included. For Robert De Niro, it is a tour de force. De Niro controls the screen. His pain is palpable, and he makes us care about the morally passive Frank Sheehan, the man who quite possibly murdered his friend Jimmy Hoffa. Frank can’t own up to regret. He states facts rather than partaking in free will choices. A few hints are given as to why this may be. Sheeran’s World War II soldiering with its 411 days of combat and his “just following orders experiences” are equated to the relative ease in which he carries out Mob hits. Frank Sheeran is used to just doing what he is told. He fought under General Patton in Italy.
Frank is the Irishman. And he is a Philadelphian, who just seems to have drifted into Italian crime with the Bufalino family. Starting out as a food truck driver in the 1940’s carting beef carcasses to restaurants, he soon befriends the heavies: ” I can deliver you steak, the best.” We see him develop into a loyal enforcer, who sees more than a few threads in how the Mob has woven itself into American events. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the Jimmy Hoffa’s rise as the head of the Teamsters. The film’s scope is subtilely large, almost epic, in how organized crime makes it mark. Steven Zaillian’s screenplay is close to perfection. Based on Charles Brandt’s book, “I Heard You Paint Houses”, the action and Sheeran’s late attempt at contemplation balance our feelings of horror and judgement.
Likewise, the structure of this cinematic wonder is perfection. We first see De Niro, our bodyguard and hit man, in a fancy, Catholic facility for the aged. The score belts out ” In The Still Of The Night”. It is a grand opening for reflection. The camera pans the holy statues, the card games, the wheel chairs. De Niro’s monologue begins..” When I was young, just a working stiff..I started “painting houses myself”, a euphemism for wiping people out. He sets up his tawdry tale of actions with a kind of pilgrimage to a Detroit wedding ~ the wedding of his attorney’s daughter. The same lawyer is Wm. E. Bufalino ( Ray Romano) who saved him from a slew of crimes. In fact, thirteen grand jury investigations were held with no indictments.
Cool, episodic flashbacks are interspersed during the trip-ticked car ride. The pace is sublime. The period details wonderful. Who doesn’t remember the Howard Johnson orange and light blue interiors and the ice cream flavors on the wall?! Who doesn’t remember Lum’s hot dogs steamed in beer? The white walls of a shiny, black Hudson glide by ; guns are tossed nonchalantly into a river; Frank takes his family bowling , and they play miniature golf. ” Remember, You Belong To Me” is in the background. A fleet of taxis are exploded.
Robbie Robertson comprised the score. The chosen lyrics match the period and the existential place of the main characters. Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa is rife with unique character traits and intense opinions. We learn that Hoffa loved ice cream,and that he never drank. He believed in dressing for the occasion and hated when anyone was late for an appointment. Hoffa’s ” You can’t trust millionaires kids.” refers to Robert Kennedy’s inquest of the mob going to the Teamsters for money and using pension funds to get it. Pacino gives a larger than life performance. His ” I ‘m going to jail because of you!” is a line delivered in lieu of a dozen jack hammers. There are some amazing Pacino scenes where an ice cream parlor’s tv screen announces the death of JFK. He is both respectful and certain that the Teamster’s half- mast flag will be returned to the top of its flagpole. Al Pacino’s Hoffa knows how ” to put on a show!”
There is humor interspersed with all the darkness. Hoffa bemoaning that all the Italians are named ‘Tony” is only one example. Prison bocce ball played in wheel chairs, another. There is a back-seat, fish-smell scene that will become a classic in every film school. The bread and grape juice Communion with Russell Bufalino and Frank’s selecting of his own casket after the salesman asks, ” If he sees anything that he likes” are perfection in symbol and resignation. Scorsese has a masterpiece here; and Joe Pesci, Frank’s godfather, has yet to be mentioned! Pesci is a powerhouse of silence. The antithesis of Pacino’s Hoffa, who never stops talking. Pesci is the perfect foil. He is like the devil when he utters to Frank, ” How strong I made you.”
See Martin Scorsese’s film on the big screen with an audience around you. De Niro has left the door open for both daughter Peggy and for you.