Devin Carter, Correspondent
It’s once again that time of the year when the Oscar heavyweights emerge, and audiences can go to theaters with several truly great movies to choose from. Fortunately for many, what will undoubtedly be seen as one of the best films of the year, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, can be watched in the comfort of their homes. For the second year in a row, Netflix has produced one of the best films of the year, and should be very optimistic about its chances as the awards season approaches.
Many have probably never heard of Martin Scorsese before, and that is a shame. He is one of very few people who could stake a claim for the greatest film director of the last half-century, and I would certainly give him that title myself. He has done for social ethics in cinema what Hitchcock did for suspense, and several of his movies are considered to be among the greatest ever made. Like Hitchcock, Scorsese has a gift for bringing out the worst and best of his subjects, from the animalistic Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull to the lonely and psychopathic Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. He has managed, time and time again, to expose moral hypocrisies within both our society and within ourselves, and he does so by bringing out the worst in supposedly good people, as well as the best in his more contemptible characters. These are not always enjoyable experiences- sometimes, his movies can leave you feeling physically uncomfortable. But I would argue that he depicts a side of humanity that is essential for us to see in order to fully appreciate what is really means to be human, and his films about reprehensible people and the worlds they inhabit have only served to enrich cinema in the same way that a great war film or crime novel does.
The Irishman is an addition to Scorsese’s highly-acclaimed array of mobster movies, and manages to stand out thanks to the scope of its story and the sorts of people we are asked to associate ourselves with. More so than any other film by Scorsese, with the possible exception of The Aviator, we are presented with famous figures of the past, and we are able to see how their public personas clash with the dark realities of their mob connections. From the Kennedy’s and their underworld connections to the famous union leader Jimmy Hoffa, Scorsese has filled this movie with recognizable people and depicts events that are still felt in the public conscience. Examples include the depictions of the 1960 election being handed to Kennedy thanks to his crime connections, as well as the President’s assassination and the crime world’s response.
But the heart of the movie lies with Jimmy Hoffa, the eccentric union leader who went missing in 1975. Played by Al Pacino in an incredible performance, we see his relationship with the protagonist, Frank Sheeran (played by Robert de Niro in another superb outing), develop into what may have been the sincerest bond of Sheeran’s life– at least until one day when he has to make a major decision concerning their friendship.
With a runtime of nearly three and a half hours, The Irishman is a very long film, and it often feels its length. However, it is filled with memorable scenes and terrific performances from its cast. Most of the events are seen through the eyes of Sheeran, with his rise through the ranks of the mob, his relationships with top bosses, and the impact these events have on his relationship with his family, being focal points.
In this capacity, the film has mixed results. While everything comes together impressively, and while the movie lacks any blatant flaws, it never seems to rise to the levels of greatness that several other films by Scorsese realize. While there are undoubtedly several universally felt elements within the film, these seem too bogged down by the bloated story, making it less accessible to those who are not already familiar or interested in films about organized crime.
Even so, it would be impossible to call The Irishman anything but a success. It may not be among the greatest films ever made, or even among the greatest by its director, but it still succeeds in what it wants to accomplish, and it reaches that success through a combination of several impressive and effective elements. I cannot say for certain that it is the greatest film of the year, but it will almost undoubtedly be right in the thick of the Oscar race across several different categories, and could see itself taking home multiple awards that will be well-deserved.