There’s a lot packed into Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” even beyond its generous three and a half-hour runtime. It would almost be enough that it gives us a tour of decades of gangster lore at the intersection of American politics, but there’s also complex and quite eloquent contemplations on the nature of violence and regret; exquisite recreations of mid-century urban landscapes; and, unavoidably, large scale CG-driven de-aging of its central performers. Scorsese, as ever, brings it all together with the grace of a master; few directors can paint with such nuanced detail in such consistent a manner across canvases as wide in scope.
I got to catch a screening during the movie’s limited theatrical release, and felt fortunate for having been able to experience Scorsese’s vision uninterrupted, in the immersive cocoon of a dark cinema. It’s a rich text, worth seeing in any context, but I have to confess that it also felt somewhat…inessential. “The Irishman” offers a new, more pensive perspective on Scorsese’s longstanding preoccupations with the dark side of American exceptionalism, but it’s still a gangster movie, still a meditation on mafioso codes; still a revival of that same mid-century, mid-Atlantic, Italian-American milieu. I’m game for revisiting this territory as much as anyone, but after, “Silence,” Scorsese’s shockingly unsparing look at the persistence of faith in the face of brutality, “The Irishman” seems like a regression. Scorses does illuminate new dimensions of gangsterism with this movie; it’s just not as rich and new a territory as he is capable of.
That said, no one can accuse the director of shying away from the new when it comes to digitally de-aging his performers. That creative decision is at the heart of the film; it allows Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, particularly, to deliver performances along a chronological range that may be unprecedented, thereby allowing Scorsese to race freely up and down the decades as he sees fit. Opinions are divided on the effectiveness of the retouching but for me, when combined with the overfamiliarity of the subject matter, it was too much, too distracting. The technology is simply not there yet; DeNiro, particularly, never looks younger than fifty, even when the script pointedly refers to him as “kid.” I kept wishing that the director had simply cast another actor to play DeNiro’s character at younger ages, much as I kept wishing that Scorsese had chosen to tell a different story.
In addition to “The Irishman,” I saw fifteen other movies last month, including “Parasite,” which I also managed to see in theaters and which I also found to be somewhat less satisfying than the glowing critical consensus promised. The first three-quarters of Bong Joon-Ho’s class and morality drama (with a horror film stashed inside of it, sort of like a toy surprise inside a candy box) is almost perfect and the director could have easily called it quits at that point and declared victory. But in the last segment he scrambles to pay off what came before, hastily gathering back together all of his principal characters to essentially face off one another in a not entirely convincing way, and then stretching credulity even further with a far-fetched denouement. Again, I found myself wishing he’d gone another way.