At three and half hours Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman might be called epic but for the entirely personal and character driven storyline, which drills down onto the films main subjects, hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa ( Al Pacino) and mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci.) The lives lived by men of violence has been a recurring theme in many of Scorsese’s films but this film puts a different twist on it. The question it asks is ‘What happens when those men come to the end of their lives and have to reckon with who they are and what they’ve done?
The film constantly flashes back and forth in time, courtesy of someone amazing de-aging technology, in order to show what has made our protagonists, and in particular Sheeran, the men they are.
Throughout the film we are introduced to minor characters, who in a freeze frame, have a super with the date and manner of their violent demise some years later. This ever present phantom of death stalks men in the prime of life and as well as those with little left to live. This world is the valley of the shadow of death.
It’s a place that sets each man against other, where everything is gripped by a fear which destroys families and friendships. In Sheeran’s case one of his daughter’s won’t speak to him, while the man who ‘protects’ him also pushes him to do unspeakable acts. For those of us who have decided to stay on the straight and narrow, the film makes us uncomfortably conscious of how we all have to pay for the lives we led and the mistakes we make. In that sense the film is, unsurprisingly for one made by a man who nearly became a priest, full of guilt. in ‘The Irishman’, no matter how many times you escape punishment in this world you’ll end up paying in the end.