Skip to main content
A Magazine for

The Irishman: Scorsese's Third Act

817 1575298688

The Irishman is a funereal film. It's one of those melancholy retrospectives that a master of cinema might create as they approach their twilight years.

Scorsese, who's just turned 77, paints an impressive gangster epic that doesn't tread old ground but reflects upon it. This is the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), but along the way you'll meet other legendary mobsters you may be familiar with - Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel - all instilling the film with meta-cinematic nostalgia through their pensive, wrinkled performances.

Over the next three and a half hours, Frank will get involved with the Bufalino crime family, rise up the ranks to become one of their most lethal hitmen, slay dozens on his way to success and eventually meet Jimmy Hoffa, a famous union leader with a bad temper, becoming his right-hand man. But whatever glamour arises from this brief overview is absent from the film. This may be Scorsese's saddest film yet.

Told in a nonchronological patchwork that would have torn apart at the seams without the often-overlooked post-production wizardry of long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese flits between three De Niros, the younger two being magically de-aged thanks to a Netflix budget. One is in his early middle ages as a truck driver and World War II vet, another in his later years as a professional killer and absent father, and a final, more haunting depiction: elderly and alone, recounting his unorthodox road to hell in a nursing home and turning to priests for forgiveness.

Like Goodfellas, The Irishman has a rather grave third act which serves to critique the lives of the various machismo-fuelled gangsters Scorsese has spent his career depicting. But this time the director imbues his storytelling with the invaluable wisdom of an old man, wryly deconstructing not only the elements of American life that have always repulsed him, but an entire cinematic genre that he spearheaded, came to define and was then attacked for. In The Irishman, Scorsese kills his darlings with a postmodernist gunshot.

This isn't to say he's now condemning his infamously violent and blasphemous body of work, but there's a jadedness, a hesitation towards violence in the film that can only come from a man with mortality on his mind. The murder scenes are furtive and take up little screen time. It's the quieter, more mundane moments that are truly heartbreaking.

In one such scene, Frank's daughter asks, "Where are you going?" as she spots him leaving home in the dead of night. "To work," he responds flatly, as he packs a pistol into his case before departing. An elderly Frank will later pore over photos of her, musing to his nurse: "You don't know how fast time goes by until you get there." Over 210 minutes, Scorsese dots out this point in bittersweet gravestones.

Related articles

Reviews in Retrospect: Smoke

Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's 1995 indie comedy drama explores the interconnectivity of personal stories and the prospect of recovery through community and connection.

The Story of Plastic

The last decade has seen a profound shift in our relationship with the environment. The spotlight has been on climate change, habitat destr…