Grackles review The Irishman

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Reviewed by Scott Ray and Charlie Riccardelli 

In The Irishman, legendary director Martin Scorsese returns to the world of gangsterism that he’s explored in several of his most iconic films, but don’t mistake his latest with the kinetic, bloody opuses like Goodfellas or Casino. No, The Irishman is more restrained, a 3.5-hour meditation on death and the haunting realization of what we leave behind when we’ve failed to live a righteous existence. For a director who has made movies about Jesus and The Dalai Lama, this might be his most religious examination yet—a funeral mass for someone who is in no rush to face St. Peter.

Based on a true story, the film follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a WWII vet and truck driver whose willingness to follow orders, work hard, and keep his mouth shut help him get recruited and rise through the ranks as a soldier for Pennsylvania mobsters. Soon, Frank finds himself working as a right-hand man to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the legendary twentieth-century Teamster president who famously went missing in the 1970s. It’s safe to say that Frank will have more than a small part in the mysterious fate of Hoffa, a part that will weigh on his soul for the rest of his life. Because of his association with crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Frank crosses paths with some of America’s worst criminals and most tragic figures. Like an angel of death, nothing good comes from the places he’s been.

Charlie Riccardelli: The Irishman is based on the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, a title taken from the first thing Jimmy Hoffa ever said to Frank Sheeran. To paint houses means you kill people for a living – painting the wall with the blood spatter that comes with a gangland murder. Killing is Sheeran’s legacy, and how many people want that to be how they are remembered? He begins his adult life as a soldier, where killing Nazis was just what you did, but where that war was a necessary evil, there’s nothing good to come from what Frank does on behalf of the criminal underworld.

The lasting sins that Frank and other criminals commit is at the heart of the film. Scorsese is maybe the most Catholic of all directors, and he’s always made the allure and destructive nature of sin a central focus of his work, though this is the first time he’s shown the lasting effect it leaves. When he beats a man in front of his young daughter, he cannot undo the image of himself he’s created in her mind. When he kills, he cannot unwash his hands of death. Scorsese, who just turned 77, has made a film that profoundly deals with cruel realities of growing old in a way that few filmmakers ever get to do. If this were his last film (and I sure hope it’s not), it would be one hell of a summation of his career.

Scott Ray: What’s so compelling to me is that while this film is intensely concerned with the weight of Frank’s sins in an overtly Catholic way, it still works if you discount the religion. Put aside the obsession the film has with the accumulation of mortal sin after mortal sin, with the hefty bar tab waiting for Sheeran at the end of a depraved lifetime filled with perfunctory violence—you don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or religious at all to see the way his actions leave a wake behind him, especially in the way his family perceives him. Beyond the idea of sin, this is a film about looking back and feeling bottomless, paralyzing regret at a life poorly lived. Sheeran is an extreme example of a mislived life, but it isn’t hard to reflect on your own choices and decisions as you watch the time slip away from him, faster than he might have ever believed it would as a younger man.

Scorsese is known and often criticized for the violence in his films. He’s accused of romanticizing the mobster life. I always wonder if the people leveling those accusations ever watched a Scorsese film until the end. The Irishman gives us clues all through the movie as to where this kind of life leads. The gruesome fate of almost every side character is revealed in casual subtitled freeze frames at their appearance. This isn’t a spoiler at all; it plays comically in the film. In this world you either die in jail or, much more likely, your friends kill you.

CR: Many of Scorsese’s fi