The Irishman: Martin Scorsese’s monumental mob saga has a lot of story to tell, and it does so with incredible clarity and patience. It has a long runtime, but editor Thelma Schoonmaker gives it superb pacing; the film never drags, and no scene feels unneeded; quite the opposite, in fact, as the film is extremely entertaining. Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian (who additionally created a wonderful, at times snappy and funny dialogue) never sugarcoats that the story is about hard criminals; the way the story evolves makes it clear how he feels about that, but the film nevertheless manages to have a melancholic note.
The eponymous character is a good storyteller (maybe, maybe not, one that adheres to the truth), but he is otherwise somewhat non-descript; he is more defined by what he does than by what he is; in that sense, he makes a convincing loyal underling, and that is an interesting choice of how to present him. It is a beautiful, relatively quiet, turn by Robert De Niro. Al Pacino’s performance is the polar opposite, as a larger-than-life character calls for a loud and showy piece of acting. As good as those two are, however, it’s Joe Pesci that gives the best performance, quiet as someone who commands such authority can be. Anna Paquin is very subtle in her small role. In fact, it’s hard to find a wrong note in the gigantic cast.
The film looks great. Director of photography Rodrigo Prieto’s camerawork is beautiful, the camera moving smoothly and elegantly through a few set-pieces. Costume and set designs are top-notch. The make-up work, digital or otherwise, that ages and de-ages the characters is very effective. Typically, the use of music (mostly licensed songs) by Schoonmaker and Scorsese adds a lot of ambiance.
(Side note: as this is written, the film will be in a few weeks available for streaming, but if possible do yourself a favor and watch this in the largest screen and most pristine projection available.)