Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman partakes of the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood syndrome. The iconography of the actors themselves threatens to overtake the subjects they’re playing. Is the movie about the murder of Al Pacino by Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro or that of Jimmy Hoffa by Russell Bufalino and Frank Sheeran (the titular Irishman). Not that it doesn’t spawn a host of other mythologies amongst them the stories of Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and other mafia racketeers like Anthony Salerno (Dominick Lombardozzi) and Anthony Provenzano (Stephen Graham). However there are times when the outsized performances are a little like Alec Baldwin doing a sendup of Trump on SNL. They’re so stereotypic they verge on parody—especially when it comes to labor bosses and mafia dons. The barbershop murder of Albert Anasastia (Gary Pastore)  and the slaying of Joey Gallo (Sebastian Maniscalco) at Umberto’s Clamhouse, along with the Bay of Pigs and the assassination of JFK are all events that make cameo appearances along with sub themes of the mafia trying to regain its foothold in Cuba and the war of the government and industry against the teamsters. The film’s subtitle I Heard You Paint Houses, derives from the book on which the movie’s based and is the central character’s bloody claim to fame. The fact that De Niro doesn’t radiate an iota of Irishness in his persona can be disconcerting along with the sheer comprehensiveness of the director’s tableau. Over determination is both a truthful and useful principle in both art and life—particularly in a movie whose style might be termed investigative cinematography with the camera skulking around corners in long pans in both its beginning and concluding scenes (which are accompanied by the soundtrack of The Five Satans’ “In the Still of the Night”). However, plot threads are either tangled or lost despite the movie's central road trip/murder which is a unifying device. Many of the theories about Hoffa’s disappearance upon which the The Irishman is based remain the subject of controversy, but at its best the film is like a painting come to life, more Caravaggio than perhaps than the Rembrandt that A.O. Scott suggested in The Times. Frank delivers sides of beef which are a leitmotif in the early scenes of the movie (and foreshadowing of the  butchery that will unfold). These recall the work of another painter, SoutineAmongst the setups in Rodrigo Prieto's brilliant cinematography is a shot looking out from the inside of a meat truck. The detail is what ultimately comprises the majesty of Scorsese's canvas. "Candy"is the word, for instance, that's used to refer to an explosive device.

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