The first reviews are in for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, with critics raving that it is a masterpiece and surefire contender for a slew of Oscars.
The Irishman premiered on Friday at the New York Film Festival, finally raising the curtain on the director’s long-awaited, 209-minute crime-drama opus.
Though the film’s genre and cast, including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, has led some to expect a gangster thriller in the mold of GoodFellas or Casino, The Irishman is a more reflective, less flashy rumination on morality, violence and American power.
Through de-aging visual effects, the performances by De Niro, Pesci and Pacino span decades of their characters’ lives.
Robert De Niro (left) plays Frank Sheeran and Al Pachino (center) plays Jimmy Hoffa in the new Martin Scorcese crime-drama opus The Irishman, which uses digital de-aging
Robert De Niro along with the cast of The Irishman attend the 57th New York Film Festival
Left to right: Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Harvey Keitel attend the premiere of The Irishman at the 57th New York Film Festival
The film’s debut has loomed like few other events on the film calendar, and a rare frenzy greeted it at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Reviews from critics were largely laudatory.
Variety called it ‘a coldly enthralling triumph’ and ‘a stately, ominous, suck-in-your-breath summing up.’
The Hollywood Reporter called the film’s length a weakness but still hailed ‘a sprawling gangland saga that’s by turns flinty, amusing and richly nostalgic.’
The New York Times says it is ‘Scorsese’s least sentimental picture of mob life, and for that reason his most poignant.’
Based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses, a collection of recollections from the real-life figure Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran, the movie has been in development, on and off, for more than a decade.
It stars De Niro as Sheeran, a mafia hitman and high-ranking Teamster official.
Shortly before his death, the real Sheeran confessed to killing Jimmy Hoffa (played here by Pacino) — a confession that remains in dispute, with Hoffa’s disappearance officially unsolved.
Pesci plays the mob boss Russell Bufalino, who takes Sheeran under his wing.
Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino (left) and Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran (right) in The Irishman
Ray Ramano (Bill Bufalino), Al Pacino (Jimmy Hoffa), and Robert De Niro (Frank Sheeran) are seen in a still from the new film The Irishman
Joe Pesci plays the mob boss Russell Bufalino, who takes Sheeran under his wing
The Irishman surveys Sheeran’s long life in crime. But where GoodFellas was glamorous, The Irishman is sober.
The new movie also suggests that the mob played a role in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, with a character saying at one point: ‘If they can whack a president, they can whack the president of a union.’
The film is one of Netflix’s biggest bets yet. It will air exclusively in theaters starting November 1, before being released on the streaming platform November 27.
Netflix plunked down $159 million to make The Irishman after other studios passed. Scorsese, speaking in a Q&A alongside cast and producers, said that Netflix was the only one willing to bankroll the movie.
‘We couldn’t get backing for years,’ Scorsese said. ‘It’s a costly experiment, but (Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos) and everyone at Netflix was like, ‘We’ll go with it.”
Scorsese called his film ‘an interesting hybrid’ as both something made for theaters and for watching at home.
‘All of us now are in an extraordinary time of change,’ Scorsese said. ‘But when it comes down to it, I felt – Bob (De Niro) felt – the picture had to be made for ourselves.’
Director Martin Scorsese attends The Irishman premiere at the 57th New York Film Festival
Scorcese, 76, said that Netflix was the only studio willing to foot the cost for the epic film
It’s a big statement for the 76-year-old director. Scorsese and his producers offered some impressive statistics on the movie’s scope: 108 days of shooting, 117 locations, 309 scenes.
The ambitious size of The Irishman is part of what scared away other studios, along with the expensive de-aging process used to make De Niro, Pesci and Pacino appear years younger in significant sections of the movie. Nine cameras were used to film those scenes.
Scorsese initially did a screen test and compared his digitally altered De Niro to the De Niro of GoodFellas. When the actor, 76, saw himself de-aged, he joked that he could extend his career another 30 years.
Scorsese described the intensive effects process as more than making their faces more youthful.
‘It isn’t just about noses and computer imagery, it’s about posture, it’s about movement, it’s about clouding the eyes,’ said Scorsese, noting that meant giving De Niro directions like reminding him that he had to stand up from a chair ‘like you’re 49.’
For many, the biggest excitement about The Irishman is seeing Scorsese and De Niro back together for the first time since 1995’s Casino.
Pesci has acted only a handful of times in the two decades since Lethal Weapon 4.
And even though many assume they’ve made numerous films together, this is Scorsese’s first movie with Pacino.
‘Finally,’ the director said.