Contemplating Life and Death in ‘The Irishman’ Exit Survey

by The MovieBabble Staff
The Irishman

Years removed from movies like Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets, and even The Departed, Martin Scorsese returned to the gangster genre with The Irishman, which acts as a direct commentary on those previous films. And his entire career for that matter, resulting in a three and a half hour epic that contemplates life, death, and also improvements in computer graphics.

Members of the MovieBabble staff break down some of the more noteworthy parts of the film in our Exit Survey for The Irishman. SPOILERS to follow.

Describe your overall enjoyment of the film with an appropriate GIF.

Chris van Dijk:

Martin Scorsese Goodfellas GIF

Ashvin Sivakumar:

Image result for al pacino gif the irishman

Michael Heimbaugh:

Bobomb GIF

Sebastian Sanzberro:

Image result for de niro the irishman gif

Alessandro Louly:

Nick Kush:

Martin Scorsese Smile GIF by Film4

The question everyone has been asking: is The Irishman too long?

Chris van Dijk: In preparation for this survey, I rewatched The Irishman, a few weeks after seeing it on the big screen. In the comfort of my living-room, being able to pause and walk out whenever I wanted to, I was still as enthralled as I was when I first saw it. It’s a long movie, sure, but so was The Wolf of Wall Street and so was Casino. It’s not just a 3.5-hour-long film, it’s a 3.5-hour-long film directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. So, no, I don’t think it’s too long.

Naturally, a slick editor could cut this down into a lean two-hour movie. But think about all the little things I would have missed out on. Only a fool would want to cut anything from this movie.

Ashvin Sivakumar: They’re asking the wrong question. It shouldn’t be “Is it too long?” but rather, “Does it use its time efficiently and to its advantage?”, The answer to that would be yes. It’s long but it deserves to be.

Michael Heimbaugh: Absolutely not. Scorsese takes his time creating this gripping, rich universe frame by frame, and not a moment feels wasted or unnecessary. Speaking from experience as someone with a terribly short attention span, I was riveted the entire time. It’s no harder to sit through than any of the last few Marvel joints. (For the record, I’m on Marty’s side of the “Marvel/cinema” debate, but that’s a can of worms I won’t open for the time being.)

Sebastian Sanzberro: Yes, a bit.

I like movies that take their time to breathe, but by the end, I was wheezing, not breathing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Irishman, and I don’t mind a little length (2001 and Solaris are two favorites of mine), but seeing Frank hobble out of the bathroom for 5 minutes is a bit much (as is his third or fourth ‘last’ confession near the end). The scene of Frank at the bank, unsteadily standing in line on two supports hoping to see his daughter again, makes the same point as the bathroom hobbling scene, but it also advances his personal story.

Alessandro Louly: Sure, it could be trimmed in some parts, but overall the runtime is not an issue. Once I got into the film, I just couldn’t put it down despite the runtime.

Nick Kush: Absolutely not! Allowing the characters to age over three and a half hours felt very natural and in line with the core ideas of the movie. Will I ever watch it straight through without stopping ever again? Probably not — my bladder can only do so much — but that doesn’t take away from its impact.

Favorite performance: De Niro, Pacino, or Pesci?

Chris van Dijk: Joe Pesci seems to be receiving the most praise. This is partly due to his long-awaited return to the big screen and his subdued performance (in comparison to his more manic mobster performances of the past). And just to prove how incredible Pesci’s performance is, watch this scene from Casino after watching The Irishman.

Pesci absolutely deserves all the praise, but having rewatched it, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. Pacino’s charisma is unmatched, and though he does his frequent yelling shtick, there’s a lot of subtleness to his performance too. At the same time, Robert does some of the best work he’s done in the past decade. Just watch him during that scene where he calls Jo Hoffa after Jimmy’s disappearance. Just incredible.

Ashvin Sivakumar: Straying from the question here: Paquin. I mean she’s barely in the film, but what a performance. MInimal lines, but she uses facial expressions to convey such disgust and resent towards her father. And massive kudos to Paquin for outshining Hollywood’s elite granddads in their own film. De Niro, Pesci and Pacino are incredible in their own rights too.

Michael Heimbaugh: It almost seems unfair to even compare the three, since all give phenomenal, towering performances in their own way. But I have to say I’m quite partial to De Niro’s Frank Sheeran. De Niro plays him with a peculiar mix of vulnerability and remorselessness. He has no room in his heart for love or remorse, even as he approaches death’s door — his sole focus in life is securing his own proximity to power. His closest relationships (i.e., Hoffa, Russell) turn out to be almost entirely transactional. He’s like the sad blue-collar version of Daniel Plainview. It’s an all-timer for Bobby D. — which is really saying a lot.

Sebastian Sanzberro: De Niro. No question. His Frank Sheeran was the glue of the movie. Pacino was playing latter-day Al Pacino, not Jimmy Hoffa. I really miss the subtlety of 1970s Pacino, but that was another era I suppose. Pesci, on the other hand, was far more subtle than usual (of late), but De Niro was the glue binding all the entire narrative together. It’s his story, and he owns it.

And also, the near-mute Anna Paquin seemed to be revisiting her role in The Piano.

Alessandro Louly: Pesci > Pacino > De Niro. They were all good but Pesci’s performance was so different than his other gangster roles. And Pesci was the only one that truly acted differently throughout the time skips. When he was young in the film, he acted young. When he was old, he acted old. With Robert De Niro…I couldn’t even distinguish his age.

Nick Kush: I will be shouting “solidarity!” for quite some time thanks to Pacino, whose over-the-top personality fits nicely with the material, but it’s a virtual tie between De Niro and Pesci for me. The moments they share in the nursing home as they are shuffling around are heartbreaking, and a perfect summation of what came before.

The Irishman


What’s your favorite moment in the film?

Chris van Dijk: Similar to Goodfellas and Casino, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite moment. But if you put a gun to my head, I guess here are some of my favorite moments: Frank’s meeting with Angelo Bruno — “now is not the time to not say”; Bo Dietl getting drunk on a watermelon; Russell’s murderous face to Frank after his awkward encounter with Joe Gallo; Jimmy’s disbelief when Frank warns him about the fatal repercussions if he does what he’s told; the infamous fish banter in the car; JImmy’s realization that he might step into a trap (just before his inevitable demise); the painful phone call to Jo Hoffa; Russell after his stroke trying to eat bread with grape juice just like the old days; Russell’s fleeting glimpse of consciousness in prison after reminiscing about Jimmy; Frank confessing to the priest that he doesn’t feel guilty; Frank all alone on Christmas day, watching an open door.

Ashvin Sivakumar: The big climax, where the film places in question, “who killed Jimmy Hoffa?’, and we certainly find out who! Oh, plus, that scene includes the fish scene which I love.

Michael Heimbaugh: The award gala for Frank is an absolutely masterful sequence. Scorsese brings together the different threads of the story up to that point into one sprawling, gorgeous tapestry. We observe Frank’s gradually straining friendships with Jimmy and Russell, Jimmy’s alienation of his associates, the ever-lurking danger of Jimmy’s death, Peggy’s adoption of Jimmy as a father figure — all in real time. It’s like Frank said: everyone will be there. (Also, I lost it when I realized that “Little Steven” plays Jerry Vale.)

Sebastian Sanzberro: The initial meeting of Frank Sheeran and Russell Bufalino. That unwitting first encounter between mob royalty and a simple truck driver was nicely played. It really felt like the first time these two men had ever met, and this is after nearly 5 decades of working together. Runner-up would be the fish-in-the-car scene with Jesse Plemons; tense, but hilarious.

Alessandro Louly: The whole scene leading up to Hoffa’s death. It was so heartbreaking and sudden. It was so tense during the entire car ride, and then when it happens it refuses to let audiences process what just happened. Basically putting viewers in Frank’s mindset.

Nick Kush: Less so a “moment”, but the last hour and change is outrageously good, from the fish gag in the car all the way through to De Niro staring out into the abyss through the cracked door. Everything is such a gut-punch, putting all that came before in the first two acts into perspective.

What’s your least favorite moment in the film?

Chris van Dijk: None.

Ashvin Sivakumar: Hard to say I have a least favorite moment but probably one of the dinner scenes — maybe one of them earlier on in the film (I vastly prefer the second half).

Michael Heimbaugh: There aren’t really any “bad” moments in this movie, but I did find the de-aging technology rather distracting the first time around. When I first clapped eyes on “younger” Frank in the bed of his truck, I strapped myself in for a long, nauseous trip through the uncanny valley. But the more I think about it, the more the effect works. The new faces are supposed to look unnatural. This is the story of an old man looking back on his life — and what is human memory if not the past and present converging into one cluttered, amorphous mass? It’s a strikingly literal reminder of how our pasts haunt us. The person Frank was can never truly be separated from the man he is now.

Sebastian Sanzberro: The seemingly interminable shots of Frank and the gang’s rapidly advancing decrepitude. I get the intention; to show them suffering for their past sins, but there is a difference between illustration and belaboring the point. Longtime Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker knows (much) better.

Alessandro Louly: I think everyone will have the same answer, but it has to be the grocery store scene. The camera was far away enough to replace De Niro with a body double and literally no one would have been able to tell the difference.

Nick Kush: De Niro stomping the guy outside of the grocery store might be even less believable than Sonny beating up Carlo in The Godfather.

Let’s talk about that final shot.

Chris van Dijk: The ending really got to me. Having been supposedly ‘absolved’ from his sins, he’s told that by the priest that he will visit him after Christmas. Frank, having lost track of time, didn’t even realize it’s almost Christmas. It’s more than likely that he will spend it by himself, seeing that his family abandoned him. I guess the ending can be interpreted that, despite having received absolution from the priest, Frank still doesn’t feel like he’s reached redemption. This uneasy feeling, which would be guilt if he was able to get in touch with his feelings, is still present. Deep down in his heart, he knows he deserves to be alone, he knows that forgiveness is impossible. Now he’s just a sad old man, a man out of time and soon forgotten.

The Irishman, for all its epic storytelling, is essentially a character study of Frank Sheeran. A mumbling introvert, a loyal soldier, and hitman for the mob. Upon reflection, he seemed to have done everything right by the Omerta code. He kept his mouth shut, he followed orders. But in consequence, he alienated his family and damaged his soul beyond repair. Sometimes it’s just too late. It’s what it is.

Ashvin Sivakumar: Devastating, heartbreaking and in many terms a shot that displays the magisterial talent of Scorsese at his most mature. It doesn’t shy away from showing just how horrific leading a life as a mobster can be, just like the rest of the film is unforgiving in its display of De Niro’s life, showing the horrors and melancholy that follow it.

Michael Heimbaugh: When we first meet Frank, he’s alone. When we leave him, we have a stronger sense of that loneliness based on what we know about his past. The final shot distances us from him as we view him through the cracked-open door (a subtle reminder of his pal Jimmy). His final fate is the ultimate isolation. He’s left to wither and die in a nursing home, abandoned by his friends and family, surrounded by a lifetime of regret. All those horrible things he did and saw, and now, as the door closes on his life, no one will remember him. The placard outside his room bearing his name is even out of focus, suggesting he’s already been forgotten. And saddest of all, it’s frankly the fate he deserves.

Sebastian Sanzberro: For me, the partly open door was his own death and the possibility for redemption in the afterlife. Frank likes to keep that door partly open, to keep the hope alive… but he’s also too feeble to step through it himself. He’s irredeemable, and he knows it, but he likes the illusion.

Alessandro Louly: The ending was probably one of Scorcese’s best. It’s almost like the opposite of Goodfellas‘ ending. Frank was a loyal servant to the mafia, but at the end of the day, he is left alone with no friends and family. The mafia doesn’t care about him anymore, only investigators and reporters.

Nick Kush: It might be Scorsese’s best final shot ever? I saw The Irishman over a month ago at this point, and I still can’t get that shot out of my head.

Because it’s almost impossible to rank all of his movies, where does The Irishman sit among Scorsese’s last decade of films?

Chris van Dijk: Oof. Scorsese’s work has been so diverse and each one of them is great in their own ways. It’s all personal. My favorite of the past decade would be in this order: 5. Hugo. 4. Shutter Island. 3. The Wolf of Wall Street. 2. Silence. 1. The Irishman.

Ashvin Sivakumar: Personally, in the bottom half. The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence would be top for me, Shutter Island following those two, then The Irishman and Hugo. However, that’s in no way a bad thing considering the mastery of his filmography.

Michael Heimbaugh: His best of the decade. No question about it. A monumental meditation on death, salvation, loyalty, and American history. I look forward to reliving it many, many times. (In my personal Scorsese canon, it ranks eighth — right between The Last Waltz and The Aviator. But that’s liable to change.)

Sebastian Sanzberro: It’s a nice return to form. I absolutely love Scorsese’s movies from the 1970s through the mid-2000s, but the last decade hasn’t exactly been my favorite. Enjoyable, yes (Hugo was a lovely fantasy, though it felt more Spielberg than Scorsese), but I missed the grittiness. I’d have to say The Irishman was my favorite of this last decade, but among his entire career, it’d rank somewhere in the middle. He’s done better, and he’s done worse.

Alessandro Louly: I think it’s one of his best. There are so many films that attempt to emulate Scorcese (cough, Joker) but Scorcese proves he still does it best. I would still rank Silence ahead of The Irishman simply because it was such a beautiful film that nobody watched.

Nick Kush: The Wolf of Wall Street might be the funniest movie of the decade, and it’s probably my choice for Scorsese’s best of the decade as well. But Silence and The Irishman together is an interesting double feature, with Scorsese using both to reflect a lot on his faith and career in painstaking detail. As I grow older, I might appreciate these movies more and more.

The Irishman


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Nick Kush December 11, 2019 - 5:39 pm

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