The Irishman: House painting is not a viable career path.
When the credits begin to roll on Scorsese’s film I am unsure how to feel. Should I feel remorse for the man who sits alone during the holidays waiting to die? Should I feel anger for all the horrible things he has done throughout his life? Should I be annoyed that I just procrastinated by watching a three hour film?
Scorsese’s latest film is definitely long clocking in at over 3 hours, but I did not find myself being bored. I think that’s mostly because that I’ve never heard of Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters, or any of the events that unfolded long before I was born. Scorsese takes his time building his characters and it definitely paid off near the ending, making it all that more impactful. I’ll take some time first to share some of the themes I noticed throughout the film.
(WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Scorsese is at his strongest near the end of the film. I laughed at the scene where all the crime bosses are huddled together in the prison courtyard in matching jackets, some succumbing to cancer, others to arthritis or dementia. What a departure from the grand ballrooms, crime rings, and the who’s who of the Mafia. None of the pomp and circumstance matters now that everyone has grown older and weaker. Time seems to be the ultimate judge. It can’t be bribed, it can’t be threatened, it just marches on taking us with it whether we like it or not.
Indeed it is only when Frank nears his death that he begins looks for redemption for all his sins at first through religion, but later seeks out Peggy. Frank’s daughter Peggy represents Frank’s conscience. Throughout the film she is aware of Frank’s bustling “house painting” career. Frank seeks her out because no one really knows what he has done, not the priest, not his nurse, only Peggy. Peggy’s ultimate rejection to reconcile with Frank is Scorsese’s ultimate judgement on Frank’s chance of redemption. Throughout his life Frank had many chances to turn his life around. The ultimate opportunity came with Hoffa.
A lifelong friend to Frank, Hoffa was a man dedicated to his union. Even after warnings from the Mafia to look the other way, Hoffa fought to regain control of the organization he had dedicated his life to building. The most poignant scene in the movie is definitely Hoffa’s demise. Till the end Hoffa trusted Frank, but Frank, deciding not to listen to his conscience, turned around and shot the man who helped him start his career. After this Peggy asks Frank “Why?” Did Frank kill his friend in fear of the repercussions from the Mafia? Did Frank do it out of loyalty? Whatever it was, Peggy’s decision to cut ties with Frank after this event personifies the last straw for redemption for Frank.
Frank, fearing he might end up in hell when he dies, goes to another daughter. During their meeting, Frank tries to explain how he did everything he did to protect his family. In one of the most poignant scenes in the film, his daughter tells him he did not know the damage he caused. Indeed if Frank’s intention was to help his family it certainly backfired. Although “painting houses” for the Mafia helped Frank keep a roof over his family’s head it ultimately isolated him from his daughters. All Frank has to show for his ultimate legacy is a pile of guns at the bottom of a random river in Pennsylvania, a couple of dead mob bosses, and a Teamster’s cap. Again, time is the ultimate judge.
These are just some of my initial thoughts after the credits rolled. I felt sorry for Hoffa and also frustrated. If it were me I would have just stepped down when threatened by the Mafia. I’m still not sure whether Hoffa was just being ignorant or brave when he stood up to the Mafia, or maybe a bit of both. The acting was as amazing as you could expect with such an all star cast. In my opinion, Al Pacino’s acting stayed with me the most. The earnest energy he brought to Jimmy Hoffa made me tear up when he met his demise ( the world can be so unfair sometimes :/ ).
There was also a nice use of silence. The looks the actors gave each other in between bits of dialogue spoke volumes and represents a deft understanding of effective screenwriting. It also stands as a testament to the strong acting by the leads. I also enjoyed the random paragraphs that would pop up next to people introduced revealing how they died. It was a nice contrast to the lavish circumstances where we met various characters and stands as a reminder to the harsh, unforgiving mob life. I did not like the random 4th wall breaks. If you are going to break the 4th wall do it consistently, not just in the beginning of the movie.
Overall I would rate this movie a 8/10. Is it something new? No, not really. However, Scorsese explores more into what happens AFTER all the mob activities. In his other movies, all we get is usually a short three minute explanation about where all the former Mafia members end up (usually in jail or dead). In this movie we get a nuanced, hour long understanding. Even though it may not be the entirely new, The Irishman is still a fantastic movie that deserves all the accolades it receives.