By Bradley Lane
Martin Scorsese came into prominence during a time of unprecedented creativity in Hollywood. Scorsese belonged to an unofficial group working in Hollywood during the late 60s and early 70s that came to define American cinema, the Movie Brats. Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese were the most prominent of this film movement, and they were defined by their eclectic influences on their work. This was the first generation of filmmakers who went to film school and studied world cinema rather than learning directing like a trade in the old studio system.
Cinematic masters like Yasujiro Ozu, Jean Luc Godard, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini began to be reinterpreted by this group in new and extremely innovative ways. However, of the Movie Brats, Scorsese remains almost inarguably the most consistent in his unwavering attention to detail, masterful eye for composition and lifelong meditation on violence, faith and death. All of which are on stunning and even sobering display in what could be considered the culmination of his life’s work, The Irishman.
Based upon Charles Brandt’s retelling of the assassination of organized labor icon Jimmy Hoffa, I Heard You Paint Houses, Scorsese returns to his roots, but also tells a very different type of gangster story. The film is effectively a character study of mafia hit-man and friend to Hoffa, Frank Sheeran. Be warned, do not go into this film expecting a fast-paced romp like Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street. The Irishman is a film about an aging soul, reckoning with his most egregious sins. It is a long, slow and often quiet film, with emphasis placed on silences, allowing for intimate reflection on the life’s work of a killer with who you are forced to empathize.
Scorsese’s work has long been misinterpreted as a celebration of violence and crime. Even in some of his earliest works, Scorsese’s true intentions have often been obfuscated by his stylized tone and charismatic protagonists. Look no further than the idolization of The Wolf of Wall Street’s misogynistic, narcissistic, abusive and criminal protagonist, Jordan Belfort, as evidence of the dissonance between Scorsese’s messaging and his films’ high gloss style.
The Irishman’s titular character’s largest struggle in the film is with his own mortality and to a larger extent what his death would mean in terms of his legacy. This struggle is made all the more impactful when considering Scorsese’s own age and how clearly he is defending his legacy based on stylistic choices made in The Irishman. The most effective of which is his overt condemnation of the gangster lifestyle through pauses. Every time we are introduced to a member of the mob, we get a freeze frame that accompanies a caption of their name and a typically violent, description of their death caused by their dangerous lifestyle. It is a clear effort by Scorsese to make crystal clear his attitudes toward violence, backed up by the film’s devastatingly sad ending.
The Irishman stands as an essential work by one of the most defining American filmmakers of all time. It is a reflection of lifetime’s work, while boldly reinforcing the themes explored in that body of work. The Irishman will be available to stream on Netflix Nov. 27. – 4.5/5 stars