The Irishman, a film by Martin Scorsese released in 2019, is three hours and thirty minutes long. Somehow, against all odds, I found the time to watch it last night after my son went to bed.
Despite my joke on Twitter, I found the movie compelling and sadder than I expected. The movie is about a lot of things, but the theme that really stood out to me in my first watch was the futility of a criminal life.
Scorsese drives this message home by freezing the action each time a new mobster is introduced and putting up a caption that explains the awful way that person was murdered (apparently the end of the 70s and start of the 80s were a really bad time for the mob). Additionally, and I’m not really spoiling anything to say this because the movie starts with this, our protagonist, Frank Sheeran is alone in a shabby retirement home, slowly dying, completely alienated from everyone.
Scorsese does not glamorize the life of a mobster; nor does he valorize people like Jimmy Hoffa. Everyone here is flawed in sad, interesting ways. He depicts them with warmth, with empathy, showing them as good people as well as brutal ones. It’s interesting sometimes to sit down and watch movies by a director who is so responsible for the public consciousness of an idea, and to think about how much the public’s remembered idea compares to the reality. Nobody has a good ending in Scorsese’s film here. You and the protagonist are left wondering if any of it was really worth it. At stake wasn’t so much the money, although there was lots of it. It was the egos of flawed men.
The run time really only caught up with me at about two and a half hours, when the end was clear and slowly spooling out. When Hoffa begins to go off the rails after his jail stint, the writing is on the wall for the audience and even most of the characters. This is the one place in the film where you wish Scorcese would get to the point. Otherwise, it’s the kind of enchanting filmmaking that just doesn’t happen anymore.
If you can spare the time, it’s well worth the watch. The movie is still bouncing around in my head the next day, and will stick with me for a good while.