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The Irishman: First reviews call Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic a ‘gift for cinephiles’

Film marks Joe Pesci's return to acting, and stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

Adam White
Saturday 28 September 2019 11:23
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The Irishman: Official Trailer Premiere

The first reviews of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman has seen the film dubbed a “sombre” and “emotional” epic that is a “gift for cinephiles”.

The Netflix film premiered at last night’s launch of the New York Film Festival, with its cast and crew in attendance. Robert De Niro plays the real-life Mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, the film chronicling his decades-long involvement with labour union teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci).

The $160 million drama, which marks Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with De Niro and Pesci and his first with Pacino, clocks in at over three and a half hours long, and has sparked intrigue ever since it was revealed that the film’s leading trio of actors were digitally “de-aged” for the film’s extensive flashback sequences.

The use of CGI has received a mixed response, Caryn James at the BBC joking that it is “actively annoying in the scenes where [De Niro] is youngest,” adding: “It makes him look like someone who has had way too much Botox.”

Others, such as Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com, have additionally expressed dissatisfaction with the film’s relative lack of female characters, Zoller Seitz writing: “There’s nothing innately unacceptable about stories focusing mainly on men… But at the same time, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Scorsese’s two greatest Mafia pictures, Goodfellas and Casino, carve out substantial space for wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters.”

But the response to the film has otherwise largely been very positive. Here are just a selection of the reviews so far...

Stephanie Zacharek, Time
“For the first two and a half hours of its three-and-a-half-hour runtime, The Irishman is clever and entertaining, to the point where you may think that’s all it’s going to be. But its last half-hour is deeply moving in a way that creeps up on you, and it’s then that you see what Scorsese was working toward all along: A mini-history of late-20th century America as filtered through the eyes of a smalltime guy who needs and wants to believe in his own importance and capacity for decency—and who can’t see, though Scorsese can, that it’s the end of a life that tells the truth about the middle.”

Eric Kohn, IndieWire
The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s best crime movie since Goodfellas, and a pure, unbridled illustration of what has made his filmmaking voice so distinctive for nearly 50 years… the movie zips along at such a satisfying clip that its flaws rarely amount to more than mild speed bumps along the way.”

AO Scott, The New York Times
The Irishman finds its emotional centre in the vicissitudes of [the main trio’s] friendship. This is Scorsese’s least sentimental picture of mob life, and for that reason his most poignant… It’s a gift for cinephiles, to be sure, but also a sombre acknowledgement of limitations.”

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Jesse Hassenger, The Verge
This is an Old Man movie — a slower late-period work by a filmmaker ruminating on his advancing age, and on the beloved classics he made as a younger guy. But it’s Scorsese’s version: pulsing with more life than most younger filmmakers, before giving way to stark, chilling regret.”

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
“Scorsese, as ever, riskily courts sympathy for these thugs, and while there might be some notes of over-reverence in
The Irishman, I think he mostly maintains the proper perspective. These are bad guys who’ve done bad things, but in the movie’s whispery allegory, all that misdeed is a harsh metaphor for the scrambling we do in our own lives. In The Irishman’s arresting final act, Scorsese captures the smallness and loneliness of life, its pathetic flattening out—time, in some senses but not all, eventually erodes away all of our context.”

The Irishman will be released in selected UK cinemas on 8 November, before arriving on Netflix from 27 November.

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