Not a single one of the 209 minutes is wasted
Martin Scorsese has done the impossible. He managed to unite the holy trinity Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci (coming out of retirement for his first feature film in nine years) for an instant classic that will be cemented with the likes of “Taxi Driver,” “Scarface” and “Goodfellas.”
After facing the financial and critical disappointment that was 2016’s “Silence,” director Scorsese went back to the drawing board and meticulously crafted every detail from Charles Brandt’s “I Heard You Paint Houses” into a work of art.
Shortly into the movie, the novel’s title appears as a phrase written in large capital letters. It’s what is said to a hitman when politely inquiring about his availability.
This attention to pace, detail and content happened to pay off immensely for the team behind the creation of the staggering three and a half hour hit, as it has earned dozens of top awards including Best Picture by New York Film Critics and is on the fast track to multiple Oscar nominations.
While this movie proved to be successful, it was far from easy to make. The track record that this team has includes some of the most critically acclaimed movies created, ranging from “The Godfather” to “Wolf of Wall Street.”
This powerhouse resume wasn’t enough to impress big-budget movie studios, as nearly every studio refused to come to a deal due to Scorsese’s persistent demand for highly expensive de-aging technology for the lead actors.
Most characters were required to be de-aged by twenty to thirty years to give the performance Scorsese expected from them in its entirety. For example, Robert De Niro is shown in his 20’s, 40’s, 60’s and 80’s.
The only large studio that agreed to his terms and gave him a chance was Netflix, as they saw the potential profitability that this cast could bring.
Throughout production, the visual effects, shoots and runtime were becoming a problem as they increasingly inflated to a staggering $145 million. De Niro had to fund a portion of the film himself, earning the title of Executive Producer along the way.
This film wasn’t a one-man project that solely rested on Scorsese’s shoulders. It was a lengthy, difficult and gruesome path that each of these actors, actresses and team members took to achieve a satisfying final project.
The film focuses on an elderly man in a nursing home named Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who tells his story in the style of a documentary for all viewers to remain enthralled by. While this movie may be framed by Sheeran’s final days, it is largely a flashback within flashbacks.
He tells a story of Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), their wives and himself (all in their 60’s) on their way to see an old friend give their daughter away at her wedding.
It’s not much longer before they begin to reminisce on old times, transporting the viewer back further to the characters in their 40’s. This story reminds audiences of the captivating storytelling form of “Inception” and “Pulp Fiction,” winding various plot elements together throughout the film.
The film covers as much ground possible over forty years in the Mafia and Teamsters world. As a callback to old crime movies, newly introduced characters names flash on the screen, such as “Johnny Boy” and “Whispers.” However, this time around, names are accompanied by the date and cause of death that is to come down the road (“Phil Testa – blown up by a nail bomb under his porch. March 15, 1981”).
It’s this quirky, dark sense of humor that makes this movie more than just another crime drama. From the first minute to the dark, emotional closing lines, Scorsese captivates the audience in a way that not many other filmmakers can do in the modern-day streaming era.
Despite only having a limited, three-week theatrical run before being released straight to Netflix, Scorsese wasn’t afraid to share his opinion in a recent interview regarding the only correct way to watch this film, urging viewers “Please, please don’t look at it on a phone, please.”
Most viewers can agree with his statement after watching the film, as it is reminiscent of many classic mobster films that moviegoers would have to physically drive to and shelf out a whopping $3.25 a movie ticket to see.
It’s a slow-burn that doesn’t lose grasp of the audience’s attention. True events are woven in, fascinating conversations take place and elegant filmmaking is displayed thanks to people with a vision for something more long-lasting than the typical “come and go” blockbuster hit.
A moviegoer might assume that using this new technology will detract from the top tier performances, but this is far from the case. The team behind this epic event detracts the issue of age by not addressing it or asking the viewers to disregard it.
While it will possibly be many years before the public can witness another epic from Scorsese, “The Irishman” will certainly hold the masses over until then.