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The Irishman review: Robert De Niro is fabulous and Joe Pesci quietly almost as good

The Irishman                                                                              Cert: 15, 3hrs 29mins

Rating:

The Irishman is three-and-a-half hours long and is out on Netflix towards the end of the month, raising the initially tempting prospect of watching it at home, maybe spread over two, even three nights. 

But I urge you to go and see it in one sitting in the concentration-enhancing darkness of a proper cinema… After all, it is a Martin Scorsese film, its epic sweep captures Robert De Niro’s best work for a long while, and come awards time it’s definitely going to be there or thereabouts.

I’m not going to pretend the marathon running time isn’t a challenge, and there are some scenes that don’t work nearly hard enough, as an overexcited Steven Zaillian, who wrote the screenplay for Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York, determinedly sets out to show he’s a big fan of the legendary director’s early work too.

The Irishman is a Martin Scorsese film, its epic sweep captures Robert De Niro's (above with Jesse Plemons, Ray Romano and Al Pacino) best work for a long while

The Irishman is a Martin Scorsese film, its epic sweep captures Robert De Niro’s (above with Jesse Plemons, Ray Romano and Al Pacino) best work for a long while

The already much imitated scene from Taxi Driver, which sees De Niro repeatedly addressing himself in the mirror with the line ‘You talking to me?’, may not be reprised verbatim but its presence certainly hangs heavily in the creative air. 

Two moments in particular, one involving the line ‘You looking at my ears?’, the other ‘Fish – what kind of fish?’, come very close to self-parody.

But then this is very much Scorsese going back to his roots – the mob, murder and De Niro, with whom he first worked an astonishing 46 years ago on what was to be a breakthrough film for them both: Mean Streets

De Niro plays the Irishman of the title, Frank Sheeran, a young man who emerges from World War II with two talents likely to endear him to his local New Jersey gangsters

De Niro plays the Irishman of the title, Frank Sheeran, a young man who emerges from World War II with two talents likely to endear him to his local New Jersey gangsters

That was about the American Mafia, and so is this, albeit closer in style to Scorsese’s other Mafia masterpiece, Goodfellas.

In a sprawling picture that doesn’t so much serve up a slice of Americana as two or three cakes’ worth, De Niro plays the Irishman of the title, Frank Sheeran, a young man who emerges from World War II with two talents likely to endear him to his local New Jersey gangsters: he can speak almost fluent Italian and, thanks to his Geneva Convention-defying treatment of German prisoners, kill in cold blood.

A lifelong association with local crime boss Russell Bufalino (played by De Niro’s fellow Goodfellas star Joe Pesci) soon begins, as does Sheeran’s new career as a hitman – or house-painter, as it’s known euphemistically. 

‘I also do my own carpentry,’ he reassuringly tells prospective employers.

The film covers the best part of six decades, with an elderly Sheeran providing a linking narration from a wheelchair in his old people’s home.

IT’S A FACT

A thin, pale child, Robert De Niro was nicknamed Bobby Milk and once played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard Of Oz

De Niro, who is 76 in real life, achieves this with the help of thinning hair, make-up and prosthetics – old-school acting, you might say. But many of the flashbacks have been created using the hugely expensive process of ‘digital de-ageing’, which has already rejuvenated Samuel L Jackson in Captain Marvel and Will Smith in Gemini Man, and now allows De Niro, Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel to roll back the years.

Apart from one ambitious early shot that attempts to return De Niro to his 20s and ends up making him look like one of the animated motion-capture characters from The Polar Express, it works pretty effectively, justifying the tens of millions of dollars Scorsese has apparently spent on the process. 

That said, with the action jumping backwards and forwards in time at a rate of knots, you get used to the main characters not looking the same from one scene to the next.

It’s not a perfect film. Unravelling the labyrinthine links between the Mafia, Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters union and the American political establishment is complex – particularly for British audiences. 

Pacino is over the top as Hoffa, the charismatic union boss who suddenly disappeared in 1975. And the whole thing doesn’t look quite as good – or as cinematic – as we expect a Scorsese film to look.

But De Niro is fabulous, Pesci quietly almost as good, and Scorsese is clearly enjoying himself behind the camera. The ol’ goodfellas have still got it.

 

The Aeronauts                                                                            Cert: PG, 1hr 40mins

Rating:

Somewhat controversially, The Aeronauts is a shameless mix of historical fact and unabashed fiction. The undeniable facts are that the pioneering English meteorologist James Glaisher really did set a new world altitude record for a balloon in 1862, discovering all sorts of things about the atmosphere as he travelled to a height believed to be well over 30,000ft.

In real life, he did so thanks to the skill and bravery of his balloon pilot, Henry Coxwell, but two blokes in a wicker basket clearly wasn’t thought to be much of a film. 

So that’s where the makers turn to fiction, with the unfortunate Coxwell being replaced by the entirely made-up but infinitely prettier Amelia Wren.

The Aeronauts all works, thanks to a spirited performance from Felicity Jones (above with Eddie Redmayne as James Glaisher) as Wren and some vertigo-inducing visual effects

The Aeronauts all works, thanks to a spirited performance from Felicity Jones (above with Eddie Redmayne as James Glaisher) as Wren and some vertigo-inducing visual effects

From the moment she arrives at the launch – flashing her bloomers atop a galloping stage coach – she seems to have spilled straight out of the pages of an Angela Carter novel.

But, slightly to my surprise, this all works, thanks to a spirited performance from Felicity Jones as Wren, some vertigo-inducing visual effects, and my post-screening discovery that there really were a handful of female balloonists taking to the 19th-century skies.

Tom Harper, who directed the much-praised recent television adaptation of War & Peace, and who directs and co-writes here, pads out all the ballooning, sky and clouds with decent flashbacks to events on the ground. 

We see Glaisher battling to win backing for his expensive flight, while Wren struggles to regain her nerve after the death of her husband.

But with Eddie Redmayne – who starred alongside Jones in The Theory Of Everything, of course – on slightly subdued form here, it’s the fabulously convincing visual effects that really carry the day. 

An early thunderstorm, which sends the balloon soaring upwards out of control before it plunges earthwards again, sets a dizzyingly high standard. But there’s better, scarier – and much, much higher – to come.

Definitely not for those with a fear of heights.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

 

The Good Liar (15)

Rating:

This Bill Condon-directed thriller is at its best when we’re watching Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen acting their socks off and we’re trying to work out who is conning whom.

But just when all their fine acting (McKellen really is fabulously ghastly as the predatory Roy) is building towards something rather psychological and delicious, the action takes a disastrous mis-step, plunging into the most unlikely historical melodrama from which it never recovers. 

This Bill Condon-directed thriller is at its best when we’re watching Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen (above) acting their socks off and we’re trying to work out who is conning whom

This Bill Condon-directed thriller is at its best when we’re watching Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen (above) acting their socks off and we’re trying to work out who is conning whom

Both Mirren and particularly McKellen should have known better, having been caught up in similar plot-twists before. Maddening.

 

Midway (12A)

Rating:

The Battle of Midway was turned into a feature film in 1976 with an all-star cast led by Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and James Coburn. Now Independence Day director Roland Emmerich has had another go with a cast led by, er, Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson and Luke Evans. 

Oh, and Woody Harrelson is in there somewhere too.

Independence Day director Roland Emmerich has had another go with a cast led by, er, Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson (above) and Luke Evans

Independence Day director Roland Emmerich has had another go with a cast led by, er, Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson (above) and Luke Evans

State-of-the-art visual effects have some dodgy moments, particularly early on, and the story-telling gets a bit confused. But the last hour is spectacular and gripping, albeit slightly lacking in emotional punch.

 

Luce (15)

Rating:

A wordy screenplay leaves Julius Onah’s third feature sounding at times like a student debating competition, but it makes powerful points about race and human fallibility. 

The Luce of the title – played by Kelvin Harrison Jr – is a star black pupil at an American high school, and an object of pride for his white parents. But Luce is not perfect, and nor is anyone else, come to that.

Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth help deliver an intriguing, intelligent and realistically unresolved drama.

 

Driven (15)

Rating:

An FBI informer is moved to a Californian estate, supposedly to entrap a local drug-dealer, but Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis) gets seriously distracted when he discovers one of his new neighbours is car designer John DeLorean (Lee Pace).

An FBI informer is moved to a Californian estate but Jim Hoffman gets seriously distracted when he discovers one of his new neighbours is car designer John DeLorean (Lee Pace, above)

An FBI informer is moved to a Californian estate but Jim Hoffman gets seriously distracted when he discovers one of his new neighbours is car designer John DeLorean (Lee Pace, above)

Jim is initially thrilled to make such a famous new friend, but as DeLorean’s money problems mount, he also spots an opportunity. Well-acted and well-made by British director Nick Hamm, although with familiar elements.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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