Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese have had a long, profitable and illustrious career together. Their latest film, The Irishman, is astonishing. Although I dislike gimmick laden films this one is different. Here the gimmicks are central to the purpose to the film itself. Each of the principals is elderly and yet they’re playing characters in their 40s: successfully playing characters in their 40s. Stunning.
So what? Gimmicks can be endlessly brilliant but if the film is hopeless that’s the end of the conversation. The Irishman is independently brilliant. Tracing the career of Frank Sheeran (de Niro) through WW2 where he committed war crimes, to a trucking job and low level crime, to organised crime and finally as a henchman of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) we also see the corruption of American society. This corruption culminates in the assassination of President Kennedy. That he remains unrepentant even as he approaches death in a care home is a final chilling moment.
Sheeran is the incarnation of evil. Those six words turn this film review on its head. I watched for three and half hours without a sense of horror, fear or disgust. I was a voyeur. A desensitised voyeur who’d been educated by Scorsese’s genius to accept the mores of gangland brutality and their disgusting morality. Socrates was executed for corrupting the youth of Athens. I wouldn’t fancy the chances of either Scorsese or de Niro in ancient Athens.