Friday, September 27, 2019

First thoughts on THE IRISHMAN (2019) at the New York Film Festival

Right to left Kent Jones, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and Jane Rosenthal at the Pess screening for The Irishman 
I saw Martin Scorsese's THE IRISHMAN at the press screening at the New York Film Festival and before I really talk about it there needs to be a couple of things made clear.

First anyone who's review is posting when the embargo lifts, like this one, and considers it their final word on the film is an ass.There is no way anyone can make any sort of pronouncement of this film until they have days, weeks or years to ponder it. I had several conversations about the film in the hours following seeing it and my thoughts are all over the place and not locked down-hence the title "First thoughts"

Second don't take the word of any tweet or social media post about the film. There is way more going on here than any tweet or text can express.

Third, this is just my initial thoughts. There is way more to come, from me and everyone else who has seen it.

Lastly if you think it is going to be GOODFELLAS 2 or CASINO 2 you will be disappointed. Its something else- yes it's third part of a trilogy but it also has connections to SILENCE, KUNDUN and LAST TEMPTATION.

Yes it is an incredibly complex film.

The film is based on the book I HEAR YOU PAINT HOUSES by Charles Brandt (the book title is actually part of the film's title). It tells the confessional story of Teamster leader and mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro). Sheeran rose up through the ranks because he was willing to do whatever had to be done, and people liked him. He eventually became an aide, friend and executioner of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). It is told largely through flashback as Sheeran and Russel Bufalino (Joe Pesci) travel to a wedding making stops along the way. It is a trip during which Hoffa will disappear.

Spanning decades the film is nominally a crime bio like the GOODFELLAS or CASINO.  During the early part of the film it follows a similar course however the story also is telling the story of Hoffa's peaking and fall from grace as well as his efforts to regain control of the Teamsters. Sheeran is a witness and involved in many of the events.

While the first half is typical crime drama (more or less) things become complicated as Sheeran is forced by friendship and circumstance to be part of the wave that will swallow is friend Hoffa. Used to shuttle messages between the mob and Hoffa he desperately tries to make sure everyone is happy so that his friend won't meet a bad end he knows maybe coming. It is during this portion of the film that the pace slows and the film shifts genres to something other than a crime drama into a religious or philosophical mediation about goodness, free will, and the losses we suffer as a result of the choices we make. As one writer said after the screening and tweeted to the world it's like GOODFELLAS was made by the director of SILENCE. The second half of the film makes it clear this is not the Scorsese crime films of the past but something more complex and richer.

I have no idea what it all means or what I think about it but I do know it is most definitely worth seeing.

While I could and should leave it there I do have to mention a couple of more things.

First I am not sure if the film earns it one minute shy of three and a half hour run time. While never dull, the speed change in the second half can be jarring the first time through. Its purely because we are unaware of what the film is doing. Looking back on the film afterward I find my dislike of the slowness changing.

Second the de-aging is good but uneven. I do know sitting in the front row of Alice Tully Hall for the screening my reaction was different than those sitting way in the back.

The acting is mostly good to great. Pacino does chew a bit of scenery but is still good. DeNiro kills it especially in the second half where he can't express his emotion at the impending doom of his friend. Its all in the eyes and it breaks our fucking hearts.  The king though is Joe Pesci who deserves an Oscar and every award. It should become a legendary performance that is light years beyond anything he's done. If you want to see how could he is watch how he alters his performance as he ages- until his final scenes when his illnesses have wrecked him. Watch the hand shake and the way he talks and moves. GOOD GOD its one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

And there is more, but that that is for another time (expect more pieces down the road). For now either go see the film when it hits up the various festivals, or in it's theatrical run starting November 1. And when it hits Netflix on November 27th there will be no excuse not to see it.

No comments:

Post a Comment