Early Friday, “The Irishman” finally revealed itself, and played as the Opening Night Selection of the 2019 New York Film Festival. Long hyped up, not only because it’s the latest project from legendary director Martin Scorsese, but because of the revolutionary technology used to de-age the principle cast members. For months, we’ve been wondering if Netflix had a boondoggle or a potential masterpiece on their hands. Well, we can now confidently state that it’s closer to the latter and a surefire awards contender.
The film is an epic American tale of crime and politics. Robert De Niro stars as Frank Sheeran, a former soldier and union truck driver who would go on to have a hand in some major moments in history. Taken under the wing of mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Frank becomes a trusted hitman, eventually ending up on the radar of Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). In the decade plus between then and Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975, all manner of conflict occurs, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Scorsese directs a screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt. Other cast members include Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano, and more. Rodrigo Prieto handles the cinematography, while longtime Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker again cuts for him.
NYFF fell in love with this movie. We covered the first wave of critical praise for the flick, which suggests Scorsese and company are still at the tops of their games. Having been in attendance for the screening, the hype and praise is justified. This is ambitious and compelling work, not just showcasing that these men are still the best when it comes to mob stories, but also tackling the effect this life has on a man. Even without the technical wizardry this would be a tremendous crime movie. But knowing how they were able to de-age the cast, it’s even more stunning to behold.
De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Scorsese are in perfect concert with each other here. The three actors are challenged in new ways, each rising to the challenge. De Niro allows the weight of a life of crime to weigh on his character as the decades pass, culminating in an old man at a crossroads. Pacino gets to go big, like he has for years now, but with far more control than ever, resulting in a brash turn that makes Hoffa the perfect sort of larger than life figure.
Then, there’s Joe Pesci. Forceful, quiet, and downright regal as this wise mob boss, he presents a complete 180 from his signature role in “Goodfellas.” They’re all under Scorsese’s expert supervision, and he brings out their best. Likewise, his mastery of below the line accomplishments is in full evidence. Once again, Prieto’s cinematography and Schoonmaker’s editing bring harmony to his vision. This is a masterclass in front of and behind the camera.
The Academy is almost certainly going to love “The Irishman.” The combination of epic storytelling and new angle for a crime drama should be right up their alley. Voters rewarded Scorsese/his projects with nominations in one form or another for previous efforts like “Casino,” “The Departed,” “Gangs of New York,” and the aforementioned “Goodfellas.” This should be no different. There are elements of all those works, along with the historical/political intrigue of “The Aviator.” This feels like a cherry on the top of Scorsese’s sundae in regards to these types of movies. That capper may be impossible for Oscar voters to resist.
On AwardsCircuit’s Sep. 14 prediction updates, the film shows up in eight Academy Award categories, with a win in Best Cinematography for Prieto. That may even be a conservative estimate, as two Best Supporting Actor nominations for Pacino and Pesci are decidedly possible. Then, if De Niro gets into Best Actor, suddenly that gives the movie double digit nominations. Ten citations by the Academy would go a long way toward making this a potential Best Picture and/or Best Director frontrunner.
Before NYFF, “The Irishman” was a big X factor that was poised to do well with voters on reputation alone. Now, we know it has got the goods and may well be an even larger contender than anticipated. Can De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Scorsese be in the mix for more Oscar love? The odds are definitely in their favor for nominations, at least. Stay tuned to see just how much Hollywood falls in love with this one as the year progresses!