THE IRISHMAN: Marty’s Latest Masterpiece

Now playing on Netflix, and a smattering of indie arthouses:

THE IRISHMAN (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2019) 

Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited mob epic, THE IRISHMAN, has been a subject of controversy since its release for a couple of strong reasons.

First, there’s the use of de-aging VFX (Visual effects) to make its leads Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino look decades younger for lengthy flashback scenes.

Second, there’s the fact that the film is a Netflix production and after a brief, limited theatrical release it will be shown on the streaming service starting on November 27.

This reason is the one that heavily irks both the heads of major theater chains like Regal, Cinemark, and AMC, who passed on showing the film; and movie buffs who believe such a work by a world renowned master filmmaker would be best seen on the big screen.

Having seen it on the big screen, I concur with this sentiment as it’s a towering achievement that’s not only one of Scorsese’s best films, it’s a fitting finale to the director’s signature gangster game changers from MEAN STREETS to THE DEPARTED. But mainly it harks back to GOODFELLAS, and, to a lesser extent, CASINO, both of which starred De Niro, and Pesci.

Based on the Charles Brandt’s 2004 true crime novel, I Heard You Paint Houses, the film paints the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who talks us through his tale from a wheelchair in a nursing home, sometimes in voice-over; sometimes talking directly to the camera.

Sheeran, whose nickname was “The Irishman” tells us how he met Mafioso Russell Bufalino (Pesci), and became involved with such mob luminaries as Felix “Skinny Razor” DiTullio (Bobby Cannavale), crime family boss, Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel, another Scorsese veteran), and Teamster lawyer Bill Bufalino (Ray Ramano), who was personal counsel for the infamous labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (a simultaneously under-acting and over-acting) Al Pacino).

In its sequences dealing with Hoffa, the movie treads over a lot of the ground as Danny DeVito’s 1992 biopic HOFFA, albeit in a much more entertaining manner. Overall, many scenes echo those of many a mob epic – the kills, the arrests, the intense exchanges full of dangerous doubletalk, etc. – yet somehow Scorsese and screenwriter Steve Zaillian (who previously worked with Scorsese on GANGS OF NEW YORK) have been able to construct a narrative that makes these strands compelling all over again.

When it comes to the depiction of gangster Joey Gallo Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo, oily portrayed by Sebastian Maniscalco, we are treated to the questionable scenario that Sheeran was his murderer. In this scene, I kept wondering if Scorsese was tempted to include Bob Dylan’s song “Joey” on the soundtrack as the track lays out Gallo’s Italian restaurant killing. But I bet since he just put out a three hour concert doc about Dylan, from the same period he put out “Joey,” I can see why he resisted.

As for the women in the cast (yes, there are women in the cast), there’s Stephanie Kurtzuba as Frank’s wife Irene Sheeran, Kathrine Narducci as Carrie Bufalino, and Welker White as Josephine “Jo” Hoffa, but they aren’t given much to do except be concerned on the side.

However, it’s a different matter when it comes to Anna Paquin as Frank’s daughter Peggy Sheeran. Paquin’s Peggy highly suspects her father’s crimes, especially when Hoffa disappears and she is correct in her assumption that her father was involved. This causes a rift that continues well into his old age as we see in the film’s last 30 minutes.

THE IRISHMAN may appear to be daunting as its running time is three hours and twenty-nine minutes, but I never get bored or antsy. The performances are all top notch from the bit players to all of the A-List ensemble. The VFX didn’t distract me much either as it was convincing enough to make me forget about it. There were actually times when I felt like I was watching a De Niro movie made in the ‘80s or ‘90s.

It’s a poignant story about aging, but Frank doesnt appear to have any real regrets. Hes clinging to the old memories as they are all he has left after his family and friends have gone. This adds up to a powerful portrait of pathos and De Niro’s finest performance in ages. His partner Pesci, in his first film in nearly a decade, puts in a restrained and measured piece of work that hugely adds to the films gravitas.

Sure, it would’ve been nice to see this movie have a wider release so more people could see it on the big screen, but that it exists at all is reason to rejoice (Scorsese went with Netflix because Paramount Pictures back out over the huge expense – the film’s final budget was $159 million).

So whether you can find it at an arthouse *, or settle in for a night for Netflix viewing, you can take comfort that, no matter the venue, you’re in the great hands of Marty’s latest masterpiece.

* The film is getting some independent theater action, so I strongly encourage you to seek it out – its no doubt a must see movie on the big screen.

More later…

Ann Hathaway Is Robert De Niro’s Boss In The Likable Ball Of Fluff THE INTERN

Opening today at a multiplex near me…

THE INTERN (Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2015)

The premise of writer/director Nancy Meyer’s frothy follow-up to IT’S COMPLICATED is very simple: Robert De Niro plays a retired widower who becomes an intern for an online retail startup run by a much younger boss played by Anne Hathaway.

In an opening voice-over set-up, De Niro’s 70-year old Ben Whittaker lays out how his retirement has had him struggling to fill time despite taking classes, learning to cook, reading, going to movies, and resisting the advances of Linda Lavin as a fellow aging Brooklynite.

Ben happens upon a flyer for a “senior intern” program at a fashion e-commerce company called About The Fit, so he puts on his best suit, dusts off his 1973 attaché briefcase, and applies.

Ben’s video resumé, which he had to call his 9-year old grandson to get help with, is a big hit and he’s hired, but the company’s extremely ambitious yet very wet behind her ears founder Jules Ostin (Hathaway) isn’t fond of the idea of having him around. To further irk her, and to get the plot going, a snappy Andrew Rannells (Girls) as the company’s office manager assigns Ben to work directly with Jules, but at first she doesn’t give him anything to do.

This changes as over time Ben brings a can do spirit to every task he’s given, and Jules comes to rely on him just like we’d expect to happen. Also like we’d expect, Ben befriends and doles out wisdom to his co-workers played by Adam Devine *, Zack Pearlman, and Jason Orley, and he strikes up a romance with the office masseuse (Rene Russo, who co-starred with De Niro in SHOWTIME back in ‘02).

Conveniently, Ben catches Jules’ chauffeur boozing, so he takes over as her driver for a bit, which allows him and us to meet her stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm*), and her five-year old daughter (JoJo Kushner) at their posh Brownstone (of course it’s posh – every interior in a Meyers movie is posh).

In another all too convenient moment, Ben happens to see Jules’ husband with another woman, which serves as our third act conflict. I guess Meyers figured that Jules’s struggling with whether or not to bring in an older, more experienced CEO to head her company wasn’t enough of a plot point.

Earlier this week, De Niro walked out of an interview with a reporter from the Radio Times because of what he called her “negative inference.” The reporter, Emma Brockes, had apparently pissed him off with a question about how he resists going into “autopilot mode on set.” The question maybe was a little rude, but many critics and fans, myself included, have accused him of walking through a lot of his later day roles, “phoning it in” so to speak. But here, De Niro fleshes out Ben nicely and makes him one of his more convincing normal guy roles. He appears to put as much effort into the part as his character puts into his daily duties.

Hathaway also brings plenty of pluck to her performance, and makes for a perfect Meyers protagonist – a tough, but vulnerable witty woman who is great at her work. Her scenes with De Niro have a palpable tenderness to them, even when they veer towards cheesy sentiment at times.

Speaking of cheesy, the movie overplays its cute kid card with Kushner as Jules’ daughter, and a subplot about De Niro, Devine, Pearlman, and Orley breaking into Jules’ parents’ house in order to delete an offensive email that she mistakenly sent is too wacky for the film’s own good. 

Meyers’ screenplay and direction is sharper than on her previous films, even if the sitcom-ish sensibility still remains. The movie doesn’t really have much to say about workplace relations, but it has an undeniably progressive air about it nonetheless. Underneath the layer of obvious generation gap gags that is.

Filled with the same can do spirit of its leads, THE INTERN is a warm, fluffy film that’s as polished as it is predictable. Sure, it’s lightweight, but its likability factor is through the roof. It made me smile more than it made me laugh, but that’s fine – I’ll take it.

*It’s fitting that this workplace comedy would have two cast members from the Comedy Central series Workaholics.

More later…