The Irishman ★★★


Whatever Scorcese's future work, THE IRISHMAN feels like a definitive swan song, not just for him but for his core cast of heavies. Scorsese really stretches his legs in this return to the gangster film, relaxing his usual, assertive rock-and-roll beat to lay out the plot at an elderly, yarn-spun pace before moving beyond the epilogue of GOODFELLAS into the gray years of retirement, compelling his protagonist, Frank Sheeran, to sit awhile in the harsh light of reflection.

But whereas the non-exclusive voice-over in GOODFELLAS eventually serves as a kind of glorified confession for Henry Hill, not so much in regret for his past but in regret for its passing, Sheeran's voice-over is weighted with all the guilt, shame, and failure to communicate his complicity. This emotional weakness ostracizes him from his loved ones, and we see it coming from years away. The emptiness and loneliness of his loyalty to the mob and the emotional qualms he's repressed for the sake of duty do not violently emerge in a Scorcese-wrought self-immolating purge (TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE SILENCE), as perhaps Sheeran wishes it eventually would, but instead eats at him from within, manifests in a chronic stammer, and becomes like the aging process itself, visceral and inevitable.

It's a sophisticated film, and I was surprised to see Scorsese fully commit to high definition. Though conspicuous in presentation, as so often is with the overt aesthetics of his work, I felt the detail appropriately emphasized the stark fact of Sheeran's life in crime, his unresistant participation in it.

This may just be the best of Scorcese's later films.


The Irishman works in such companionship to GOODFELLAS (1990), that it would be silly not to suggest it. CASINO (1995), though great fun by its own right, always felt more like a regurgitation of the same.

Paul Thomas Anderson clearly had a thing for Scorsese during his early years, and BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) is another vigorous chronicling of another atypical family who suffers triumph and tragedy with just as much stylistic thrill and narrative affection overall.