The Irishman Review: It is a reckoning for Scorsese and De Niro's mafia bruisers
At times, the looming release of Martin Scorsese's The Irishman has felt less like a film most people will watch at home on the TV and more like an extremely expensively produced Premier League Legends five-a-side tournament.
What actually happens in it, the characters and plot, rank somewhere below the fact that Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Scorsese have made a mob saga together. Will it match Goodfellas? Will Arsenal hold on to beat Everton? It almost doesn't matter. As long as Robert Pires sits Tony Hibbert down one last time, and De Niro pushes up his bottom lip while smiling in his get-a-load-of-this-crazy-kid way, you've seen a ghost of that old magic.
Fortunately, The Irishman transcends that, and is a worthy coda to all four men's careers. The story follows Sheeran's memoir I Heard You Paint Houses, weaving the grappling between the Philadelphia mafia and union boss Jimmy Hoffa around and through the national traumas of the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy brothers' murders and Watergate. Sheeran (De Niro), hardened by fighting in and committing war crimes in the Italian campaigns of World War Two, becomes a hitman for high-ranking mafioso Russell Bufalino (Pesci). He rises through the ranks, and becomes a confidante and enforcer of union kingpin Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
Meanwhile, upstart pretender Tony Pro (the never-not-brilliant Stephen Graham) is manoeuvring to take Hoffa's place at the top of the union. The crimes escalate. Bufalino suggests Kennedy, apparently chivvied to the Oval Office with the mob's assistance, should remember "who he fucking owes". Soon, the president is dead. Quite how much of it is true is left unanswered. Uneasy alliances start to snap, the family begins to eat itself, and the circle of outrage and revenge proves unbreakable.
It's very funny at points, but it makes its point in the first scene, a downbeat mirror to the long shot following Henry into the club in Goodfellas. There, it was all about the glamour of being a gangster; here it's the loneliness. The shooby-doos of 'In The Still Of The Night' by Fred Parris and the Satins – which returns twice more later on – drift through corridors as we meet Sheeran, in a wheelchair facing away from the other residents of his nursing home. Compared to other Scorsese gangster films, The Irishman seems aware that we're more sceptical about the intrinsic worth of films about the complicated internal lives of violent men now. It's frank about the wreckage that these men leave in their wake, and how poisonous the aggressively macho workings of the world they live in are. It leaves them crumpled, and friendless, and full of regret.