“The Irishman” (2019)

Rated R, 209 minutes
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Now airing on Netflix

Review by Mark Voger, author
“Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture”

Before I get to the complaints, I must first gush a bit in blurbspeak.

“A return to form for Martin Scorsese!”

“Pesci is back, and it was worth the wait!”

“Finally, a DeNiro-Pacino movie that doesn’t suck!”

“When you see Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, you’ll swear they finally found Hoffa’s body and reanimated it!”

(OK, that last one isn’t accurate.)

And now for the rags.

From left: Jesse Plemons, Ray Romano, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino react to JFK’s assassination in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

For the most part, I loved “The Irishman.” The three-hours-and-29-minute running time didn’t bug me a bit. Martin Scorsese‘s storytelling style is so languid now, in a good way. Each sequence takes its sweet time to make its point, even when those points are small.

The meeting between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) in Florida? With all the minutia about how late one can be for a meeting, and what one should wear? I wouldn’t snip a millisecond of that.

I also love how (relatively) understated the violence is. Marty is like a fine wine these days. He cuts away, or has bad things happen off screen. There’s lot of Lewton-esque suggestion. Granted, the scene in which “house painter” Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran (played by Robert DeNiro) gives a beat-down to a deli owner lingers, but it is filmed in long-shot.

Harvey Keitel, still menacing at 80, with Pesci in “The Irishman.”

Plus, not for nothin’, I haven’t been particularly enamored of Scorsese’s output of late. I didn’t like “The Wolf of Wall Street.” I hated, with a passion, “The Departed.” I wasn’t fond of “Gangs of New York.” I don’t even believe Scorsese directed these movies. I think he pushed for the projects and he was present, but that everyone around him did the heavy lifting in the service of a “Martin Scorsese film.”

Those movies aren’t cohesive. “The Irishman” is a different story. It plays a long game – very long – and it pays off.

De Niro as old Frank. Age regression technology was used to bring this character back to World War II.

Anyways, Problem #1: The use of age regression technology.

This is huge. I’m sorry, but I cannot believe what I’m looking at. I have no faith in what my eyes are seeing. Sometimes DeNiro is a friggin’ video game. There are times when he has “Polar Express” dead eyes.

It constantly takes me out of the movie. The whole time I’m watching it, I’m wondering what they did to who. I’m preoccupied.

Scorsese drank the Koolaid on this one. In a roundtable discussion, he asked, What’s the difference between the age regression and makeup?

Man, there’s a flashback to “young” Joe Pesci – the scene with his wife (Kathrine Narducci), when he has blood on his shirt. He don’t even look human. His eyes look like friggin’ E.T. The dude needs to eat some Reeses Pieces and phone home.

Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, center, is flanked by De Niro and Romano.

Problem #2: Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa.

Any pretense to even caring about a physical resemblance, or adapting Hoffa’s mannerisms or cadence, is out the window. It’s just Al Pacino being entertaining. Which he undoubtedly is.

But there are scenes where Al is wearing a ridiculous toupee – it’s a friggin’ opossum sitting on top of his head – and I’m thinking, Is this character? No. Hoffa was a burly guy who wore a buzzcut. It’s not character, it’s Al. He’s always been touchy about his hair. It’s Al.

OK, the rags are over. I love “The Irishman” in spite of the age regression thing. I can’t wait to see it again.

South Jersey landmark the Latin Casino as depicted in “The Irishman.”

P.S.: A long sequence about a union awards ceremony is set at a venue that looms large in my family history: The Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, N.J. Prior to the advent of legalized gambling in New Jersey, the Latin was “the” place where South Jerseyans and Philadelphians went to see Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and entertainers of that caliber. It was a quick hop over the Walt Whitman Bridge.

A couple of buildings down the highway sat Dan McShea‘s Rustic Tavern, where my dad tended bar for 20 years or more. All the musicians who played the Latin – touring guys and local “pickup” musicians – would tank up at Dan McShea’s after their Latin shows.

And I gotta say, they recreated the Latin faithfully in “The Irishman.” It looks just like the old place. They clearly used photos as references. Now that’s attention to detail.

Then, around ’79 or ’80, the Latin Casino became Emerald City, a nightclub with booths that were so private, people would be up to all sorts of shenanigans. But, as usual, I digress.