Compared to Scorsese’s previous mob films, the men in The Irishman are rather hesitant and layered with self-doubt. The sexiness has waned off, almost as if the director has internalised his work to reflect a poignant disenchantment with what was once erotic, both in a mental and bodily sense. If Goodfellas opened with the line “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” then The Irishman’s opening monologue ends with an almost self-defeating “What did I know?” Yet among these gently gents however, there is the screaming, buffoonish presence of Hoffa (played with aplomb by Al Pacino).
Over time, Scorsese has become obsessed with the passage of time, but hasn’t lost his touch for humour. In the film, he introduces various characters by pausing frames and informing us about their eventual deaths – mostly murders. One label reads “Well liked by All/Died of natural causes,” a way of saying that the antagonists in this world rarely live beyond their time. Your peak is also, inadvertently, the signal of your eventual, deserving descent. Then there is the scene where both Pacino and De Niro discuss serious mob issues, dressed in pyjamas in a hotel room they are set to share. For two careers that have over the last two decades, threatened to despairingly fold under the burden of odd and baffling choices, this seemingly childish moment is a brilliantly executed albeit indirect repartee. It’s this hilarity, eloquently enunciated by Pacino’s Hoffa, who carries the confidence of a disorganised monarch in a world otherwise populated by men too steely to possess a sense of humour, that underlines Scorses’s saddest mob outing with genuine joy.
Scorsese draws from both De Niro and Pacino the kind of performances that had for some time felt unlikely to witness from them again.
Although, it goes without saying that at over three hours, The Irishman takes its time. For a film, devoid of overbearing, shouty characters, Scorsese seems to be reinventing his own palate to an extent. In Sheeran’s daughter and her quiet disapproval of her father and his friends, the director establishes a moral core that also rejects the rather wilder distillations of the Scorsese oeuvre, especially its cheaper, sexualised imitations. There is, however, still little place in Scorsese’s universe for women, a flaw that he has unfortunately failed to address in this outing as well. But the extent of the filmmaker’s ambition remains intact: For instance, the film is set around the years of Kennedy and runs past decades until the years of Nixon. It uses this timeline to even tempt the audience to connect JFK’s assassination to the American mob, if only subversively. After JFK’s death is declared, Hoffa, who has long been squeezed by him, asks for the American flag to be raised to its original high mast. It’s as delicious as a Scorsese scene can get.
In that sense, it is near impossible to criticise the wealth of acting prowess on display. Scorsese draws from both De Niro and Pacino the kind of performances that had for some time felt unlikely to witness from them again. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to think of The Irishman as a miracle. Perhaps, it makes sense that such projects have long gestation periods, million-dollar investments, and require de-aging technology to be put together. Because how else does cinema draw from the talents of these people anything more epic than what they already mean to it?