The Irishman Martin Scorsese (USA 2019) Robert De Nero, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 26 Nov 2019; ticket: £10.75
a mass for the dead
Scorsese’s The Irishman is a film made by the dead for the employment of the dead for the entertainment of the dead.
Scorsese and crew serve up nothing but tired clichés, played out visual tropes, second hand posturing and a scenario and script that feel dated by about 30 years. The camera work the editing and structuring of the film feel likewise. The whole sad enterprise is the work of old men, aged papier mache puppets going through motions of filmmaking reducing it to a series of mechanical events in set pieces and settings we’ve all seen many time before before.
My feeling is that despite The Irishman being slated as a gangster movie it is really an exercise in nostalgia. This is a nostalgia fest. It is Scorsese’s commemorative memorial for a lost time now gone by that will never return. His choice of sound track music, the bright period hits of the era, together with his affectionate filming of those nice old 5’0’s and 60’s cars, betokens his yearning for a simpler America. An America where the men are men, even if they are old men gangsters, who feel comfortable both in claiming and exercising their privileges. Of course the women know their place. We have seen it all before a long time ago: The Godfather, Mean Streets Goodfellas, all at one significant level deeply conservative affirmations of tribal male loyalty. Although the women in the form of his daughters get a shoo-in late in the movie, castigating Frank in a nod of scripted atonement from the director, this last minute switch in no way counter balances the preceding two and half hours of celebration of the all American Alpha Male.
Suffering from locked-in time syndrome, ‘the Irishman’ suggests Scorsese has one script in him which he is doomed to endlessly repeat. The scenario is the usual assemblage of cameo scenes in which in rote the Irishman executes rivals, blows them away blows them up beats them up or sets fire to them, all in a day’s work before going home, keeping a po and eating dinner with his family. Skimming along the surface of the imagery, this sad travesty is so desperate to try and make some claim for a deeper relevance outside of its own referential circuitry, that the various insignificant characters to whom we are introduced are given documentary -style tags. In an exercise of specious authenticity, captions explain how each met his various sad, if not deserved end. As if any one, in the second decade of the 21st century cared; as if any one was interested in Al Pacino’s character Jimmy Hoffa. As if in this context the conspiracy theory relating to the assassination of President Kennedy mooted in the script had any relevance. As if….
The film flits wearily through its different ‘flash back’ time zones, but however ‘young’ the elderly cast are supposed to be they still all look like old men. Even though the script fits them out with attractive wives as it attempts to divert attention from the men’s obvious signs of senior citizenship. The acting by De Nero never rises above a series of facial gestures, but to use the plural is problematic, in the main he has one face fits all, the kind of hooded eye tightened jowl musculature as he says his lines: ‘You know what I’m saying?’ One of those questioning lines like: ‘ S’ wha ya gonna do?’ that gangsters are very fond of. Apparently.
Much of the film is a padded out three hours. Like the long steady cam opening shot of the film; the wedding scene strangely and incoherently filmed using slomo; the banquet scene celebrating Frank’s contribution to the Truckers Union. At three hours the film turns into an extended parody of itself. And perhaps that is its one contribution to American film that Scorsese et al should all at the end of their film careers, be making their own filmic coffins for their own filmic funerals.