The Irishman: Martin Scorsese’s Ultimate Crime Epic

In 2019, The Irishman became the first major motion picture from Martin Scorsese to be primarily released for streaming on Netflix. While the American auteur has always been regarded as an artist on the cusp of filmmaking innovation, Scorsese was not one necessarily known for technological advancement, being a director usually immersed in mastering classic cinematic tradition. For his first endeavor in reaching a world-wide audience through a streaming service, Scorsese offered his first crime epic in decades, using the now-normal viewing option to broaden his canvas for a sprawling three-hour-plus movie event that not only welcomed back noted collaborators Robert DeNiro and largely-retired Joe Pesci, but also upped the ante with a first-time collaborative effort with acting legend Al Pacino. Using cutting-edge “de-aging” special effects to tell the generation-spanning tale of the mob hitman claiming to have assassinated American union leader Jimmy Hoffa, Scorsese presented The Irishman as, more or less, a “greatest hits” package of his renowned filmmaking tropes and stylistic flourishes. Sweeping awards and attracting Netflix an unprecedented number of new subscribers, YouTubers now weigh-in on the quality and impact of The Irishman as the latest entry in Martin Scorsese’s filmography. First and foremost, many commented on the controversial runtime of the film, as YouTuber Chris Stuckmann viewed as a necessary element in deepening the film’s rich characterization, noting:

The movie has sequences that are just filled with silence and moments that really feel tense, as a result. A lot of films have just forgotten to let their characters think on screen. It’s almost like film has become like radio [where] you don’t want any “dead air” … like we’re not allowed to have characters thinking or just coming up with ideas. [But] that’s always really fascinating when you have a bunch of actors onscreen like these guys.

Likewise, Jeremy Jahns commented that the length of The Irishman allowed Scorsese to tell his story on an epic scale and the director’s masterful hands, the scenes still moved swiftly and at an energetic pace, claiming:

The runtime, yeah it’s long, but it’s a three-and-a-half-hour-long Martin Scorsese epic … But thinking about it, what would I take out? I don’t know—it’s all relevant, it all works, it’s all important. It’ a chronicle of this [character’s] life.

Jahns added that even over a runtime of three hours, the film didn’t seem to drag or feel as lengthy as it is, insisting that Scorsese’s signature style compensated with no wasted screen-time or unneeded exposition, saying:

Also, I can’t say that it’s not engaging, because it’s completely engaging. I turned this movie on at midnight and said, ‘Well, I’ll watch the first half now and go to bed and I’ll watch the second half tomorrow; but, yeah, I watched the whole thing that night … At the end, I appreciated all of it because it all works well for the ‘world-building’ aspects.

Chris Stuckmann continued by noting that Scorsese’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, again rose to the occasion, being primarily responsible for the smooth and effortless feel to the film, making the runtime seem all the more shorter. He added:

There’s a good 45 minutes on screen just lost in translation because the film is constantly riveting, because of the talent onscreen, because of the talent on camera … this movie moves way faster than any three-and-a-half-hour movie with a lot of talking than I’ve ever seen.

At Beyond the Trailer, Grace Randolph took note that although Scorsese used the maximum amount of time in order to tell a fully-realized epic story, one of the most effective elements of The Irishman is its return to “indie” style, with the aging director bringing his signature gritty style of “the streets” back to the screen—ideally in a small-scale visual medium. Randolph commented:

While this is a very long movie, Scorsese has, oddly, made this a very small movie in scope; the cinematography, the locations—none of it warrants the big screen.

Despite the all-star cast, including the first-ever collaboration of Scorsese and Al Pacino and the re-emergence of Joe Pesci, one of the most talked-about aspects of The Irishman—even prior to its wide release—was the news that the director had utilized state-of-the-art special effects methods to “de-age” the actors onscreen, allowed them all to play the same characters over the course of the story’s many decades. A point of controversy and skepticism, many YouTube commentators admitted apprehension regarding whether such a method would work. As Chris Stuckmann noted,

The ‘de-aging’ was something that I was concerned about, as well … I was afraid that it was going to be distracting. But after a few scenes, I didn’t even notice it anymore. It was really phenomenal, and there’s actually a point where [the characters] reach a certain age I couldn’t tell.

The commentators at The Flick Pick agreed, citing a mark early on in the film where the special effects become a minor element to the story as a whole, allowing audiences to brush the distraction away while enjoying the actors’ performances. He noted:

But did the movie really do a good job of that? It tries—it really does try. Throughout this film, they do their best to camouflage the ‘de-aging’ effects as much as they possibly can … After about 20 minutes, you kind of just forget about the de-aging effects because the actors’ performances, honestly, overshadow it … They’re such good performances, you sort of forget.

At Beyond the Trailer, Grace Randolph also admitted an apprehension before seeing the film, aware that the “de-aging” aspects had been one of the film’s earliest reported elements before its release. According to her, however, the performances outshine any needed effects. She added:

So obviously, the big question is ‘How successful is the de-aging, the special effects responsible for the large budget?’ … In some shots [it works]; it’s weird. DeNiro and Pesci play younger version of themselves and, acting-wise, I think they do that very well.

Randolph continues by adding that the lead actors are convincing enough to ignore even the most minor discrepancies caused by the special effects, and—in her opinion—was worth the time and energy to make it though the entire epic film. She continued:

Thankfully, DeNiro, Pesci, and Pacino are legendary for being their own best special effects—and what keeps this movie interesting throughout are their incredible performances. Not only are they incredible, but it’s interesting to see all three play roles that are so different from what they’re famous for how we know them.

At The Flick Pick, the performances of the leads were also considered among the most successful elements of The Irishman—especially the over-the-top portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa by cinema legend Al Pacino and the surprising return of noted character actor and former Scorsese collaborator Joe Pesci. The YouTuber commented:

[Jimmy Hoffa] is played in this film by Al Pacino, who’s loud, bombastic, and he waits no longer than 10 minutes for anyone and, in my opinion, this was perfect casting and I loved every scene with Al Pacino … He just chews it up!

The YouTuber continued:

Joe Pesci, for me, is really the standout [performance] throughout this film; I just liked the subtleties of his character … And what can I say about Robert DeNiro’s performance that hasn’t already been said six-thousand other times in a much more pretentious way? He’s phenomenal, as always.

As a stand-alone entry in Martin Scorsese’s filmography, most commentators agreed that the film was a deliberate attempt to hone the strongest elements of the director’s previous movies, while presenting them in a fresh, “greatest hits” cinematic event. On that note, Chris Stuckmann concluded:

The movie will, no doubt, draw comparisons to Goodfellas … It’s different in one very specific way—Goodfellas was about excess. Those guys in that movie lived like kings; they were surrounded by money and women and power and all the food they could ever want and nobody could ever touch them, and the movie was very fast-paced in that way … But this film is different, yet I wouldn’t use the word ‘slower.’ It’s more of a subtle dissection of its characters.

YouTuber Jeremy Jahns largely agreed, giving the film an overall recommendation and citing it as one of the director’s best films in years. Jahns claimed:

In the end, I thought The Irishman was a great return to form for Martin Scorsese, his return to mobster movies … I thought it was engaging, thought-provoking, insightful … Everyone in the movie did a great job and the characters were great.

While also noting that comparisons to Goodfellas and Casino are inevitable, The Flick Pick agreed that the pacing and performances of The Irishman were strong enough to allow the film to stand on its own merits—and was an ideal film to mark the director’s first foray into streaming service territory. The YouTuber commented:

Yeah, the structure of this film is very similar to past Scorsese flicks, but I like that method of storytelling. This film’s timeline spans from the 1950s all the way to the 1990s, and it all revolved around the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, who went missing in the 1970s; he was murdered, obviously, and there have been conspiracy theories floating around what actually happened, and this film directly relates to all those events and centers on that.

In his conclusion, The Flick Pick insisted that The Irishman works best as Scorsese’s “greatest hits,” and is a successful reminder just how innovative and masterful the director can be when at his best, claiming:

Now, The Irishman is a mob movie directed by Martin Scorsese and it feels like a mix of a few previous other films, like Goodfellas and Casino blended together in this film, and you can tell that Scorsese was wanting to include all his favorite things that he puts in films or that he’s directed over the course of his career into one film, and just have fun with it … It felt like a culmination of the best of Martin Scorsese.