The Irishman


I heard he paints houses.

(2019) Gangster (NetflixRobert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jack Huston, Katherine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Domenick Lombardozzi, Paul Herman, Gary Basaraba, Marin Ireland, Lucy Gallina, Jonathan Morris, Jim Norton, Aleksa Paladino. Directed by Martin Scorsese

 

Much of the American fascination with the mob can be traced to Coppola’s The Godfather saga and the films of Martin Scorsese. If you take Mean Streets, GoodFellas, Casino and The Departed as part of the same franchise, The Irishman may well be the concluding episode in the saga.

This film, which has been winning the kind of effusive praise from critics normally reserved for pictures of their grandkids, follows the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who went from being a war hero during the Second World War to a refrigerated truck driver, to a thug in the Philadelphia mob run by Russell Buffalino (Pesci)  to the bodyguard and right hand man of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). We see Sheeran transverse the glory days of the mob, covering the late 40s all the way up until the mid-70s. While there are references to watershed moments in the history of American organized crime, this isn’t really a primer on the subject; rather, it is the point of view of an insider, one whose claims as to the disappearance of Hoffa – still considered unsolved to this day – are perhaps self-aggrandizing but there is at least some evidence that says it might have happened the way it’s depicted here.

I am being purposely vague as to the plot points because this is an intensely long movie – right around three and a half hours. While as of this writing it is still in certain select theaters around the country, and in all honesty, it should be seen on a big ass screen with a big ass booming sound system, the length makes this kind of prohibitive. Those who have short attention spans won’t be able to tolerate this and those of us who have mobility issues might find it preferable to watch this at home on Netflix, where it just debuted Thanksgiving eve.

Scorsese doesn’t skimp on the cast, with De Niro and Pacino as powerful as they have ever been in the film. Pacino, in fact, may count this alongside Michael Corleone and Tony Montana as the roles that will mark the absolute apex of his distinguished and memorable career. His fans will be delighted to watch this; those who can take or leave him can watch this and understand why others consider him one of the most gifted actors of his generation.

Not that Pesci and De Niro are slouches by any means. Pesci was lured out of retirement (he hadn’t made an onscreen appearance since 2010) which is a godsend; I truly missed the man as an actor, with his charming sense of humor and occasional fits of rage. Here he is much more subdued and plays Buffalino as a more reserved and restrained Don who is smart enough to keep a low profile but ruthless enough to do whatever is necessary to keep his empire humming along. De Niro, for his part, is De Niro here – explosive and vulnerable in equal parts.

There is a fourth Oscar winner in the cast – Anna Paquin, who plays the adult version of Sheeran’s daughter who adores her Uncle Jimmy Hoffa and takes a wary dislike to Russell, whom her father feels closer to. When Hoffa disappears, she understands that her father was involved in some way and refuses to speak to him again for the rest of his life, which apparently mirrored real life. Paquin only gets a couple of lines but her venomous looks, delighted smiles and eventually sad eyes remind me why she is an Oscar winner and makes me wonder why we don’t see more of her in the movies.

Scorsese utilizes technology in a very un-Scorsese-like manner, using computers to de-age the actors for flashback scenes (all three of the leads are well into their 70s). The technology has advanced to the point where it is actually effective here; the men look truly younger, even more so than Will Smith in Gemini Man. With technology like this, it is bound to alter how movies are made. If you have a role for a 20-something that calls for the kind of emotional depth and acting experience a 20-something actor won’t have, why not cast a veteran actor and de-age them for the role? I can see a lot of drawbacks to this, not the least of which that it will be tougher for young actors to get the kind of experience that propels younger actors into becoming great ones. Still, with the dizzying amount of product out there to fill all of the streaming services and their needs, that point may end up being moot.

Some critics are waxing rhapsodic about The Irishman and proclaim it the best film of the year (it isn’t) and among the best that Scorsese has ever done (it isn’t). There is a bittersweet feel to the movie, particularly in the last 20 minutes as if this is the end of an era, which it likely is. At 77, Scorsese doesn’t show any signs of slowing down; he has already directed one other movie released on Netflix earlier this year, a Bob Dylan documentary with at least another documentary on the music of the 70s in the pipeline. Still, getting the universe to align to get this kind of cast together and to get this kind of film made for the kind of budget it took to get it made isn’t likely to happen again, plus after this I really don’t know if there is much more Scorsese can say about the mob, although I will be the first to temper that with a never say never warning; if there is a story out there to be told, Scorsese can find a way to tell it.

The big problem I have with the film is its aforementioned length. I can understand why Scorsese let it run so long – he may never have the chance to direct something like this with this cast again – but as much as I respect him as perhaps the greatest American director ever, the movie is repetitive in places and quite frankly we could have done without about an hour of it. Watching this is no spring; it’s an endurance contest and you’d best enter into watching it prepared for that. Hydrate regularly, watch from a comfortable seated position and take a few breaks to walk around and get your blood flowing. The magic of Netflix is that you are allowed to do that whenever you like.

In the end, I think this is one of Scorsese’s best movies, but not with the triumvirate that make up his absolute best films – Taxi Driver, GoodFellas and Casino. This is more along the level of Raging Bull, The Departed. Mean Streets and The Wolf of Wall Street. I think most cinephiles are going to see this anyway but if you’re on the fence, I think you should pull the trigger and see what all the fuss is about. After all, if you don’t like it, you can always turn it off and start binging The Rick and Morty Show.

REASONS TO SEE: One of the greatest casts this decade. Scorsese is still Scorsese. A plausible explanation of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.
REASONS TO AVOID: Way too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of profanity as well as its fair share of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the longest feature film Scorsese has ever directed and the longest overall to be commercially released in more than 20 years.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 94//100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: GoodFellas
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Queen of Hearts (Dronningen)


That feeling you get when you realize you’ve crossed the line.

(2019) Drama (Breaking GlassTrine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper, Liv Esmǻr Dannemann, Silja Esmǻr Dannemann, Stine Gyldenkerne, Preben Kristensen, Frederikke Dahl Hansen, Ella Solgaard, Carla Valentina Philip Røder, Peter Khouri, Mads Knarregorg, Marie Dalsgaard, Elias Budde Christensen, Noel Bouhan Kiertzner, Nessie Beik. Directed by May el-Toukhy

 

Family dynamics are often fragile things. While they are ever-changing as children get older and enter different stations of life, they can be disrupted by all sorts of things – including the presence of an interloper who is suddenly brought fully formed into that dynamic.

Anne (Dyrholm) and Peter (Krepper) are an upper-middle class Danish couple with two young daughters. She is a lawyer who defends victims of sexual abuse; he is a physician. They live in a beautiful modernist home in the suburbs of Copenhagen, surrounded by sun-dappled natural beauty. They have a nice network of friends their age.

Into this is introduced Gustav (Lindh), Peter’s teenage son from a previous relationship. Gustav has a lot of issues; he isn’t particularly fond of Anne because he blames her for breaking up the relationship between Peter and his mother (not entirely true). He isn’t particularly fond of Peter because Peter hasn’t been around much – at his mother’s insistence, although that isn’t a factor to him; if Peter really wanted to be around, he would have, right? Of late Gustav has been acting out and getting into trouble at school and his exasperated mother, no longer able to handle her son, ships him off to Peter to see if he can do better.

At first, it doesn’t seem so. Peter and Gustav often butt heads as fathers and sons will. The house is broken into and Anne discovers that the culprit is Gustav himself; instead of telling his father, she keeps that to herself and lets her stepson know he is treading on thin ice. That seems to work with him; the two begin developing a relationship. It doesn’t hurt that the two girls are enormously fond of Gustav and vice versa.

Anne is also at this time becoming increasingly frustrated with Peter who is, like many doctors, often not present, whether attending to an emergency or at a medical conference. Anne is entering that phase of middle age where she is getting more sexually needy and Peter just isn’t handling it. Against her better judgment, she begins developing a physical desire for Gustav, a desire that is brought to fruition. As she realizes the consequences of her actions, Anne comes to a fateful decision that will have enormous ramifications in her family, her marriage – and her own self-worth.

The subject is somewhat controversial, particularly since there is a gender politics aspect to it. One wonders if viewers would feel the same way if Gustav had been a girl and Peter the one having an affair. In fact, those are the sorts of cases that Anne represents, so you know she knows better. While initially she may have the moral high ground – at one point she confronts the abuser of one of her clients in a parking garage – she certainly may lose it depending on how you feel about these things. Some say that Peter’s neglect drove her to this kind of desperation, but once again, if the sexes were reversed would that argument still hold up?

What-ifs aside, there are some compelling performances here, particularly Dyrholm as Anne. She is one of Denmark’s leading actresses and while she is not well-known in the United States except among cinephiles and overs of Scandinavian films, she deserves to be. All she does is turn in one wonderful performance after another.

Those who are disturbed by nudity should be aware that the nudity here pulls no punches. We see pretty much everything of Gustav and Anne, and their first sex scene is a lot more graphic than American audiences are used to, even more so than the late-night Cinemax flicks of the 80s and 90s that some have compared this to – unfairly, I might add. More than the nudity – which takes a certain amount of courage for a middle-aged actress – there is an emotional honesty to Dyrholm’s performance that is invigorating. We get to see layers of Anne’s personality; she isn’t the paragon of virtue that she believes herself to be and when push comes to shove, she does something that some might consider unforgivable and they wouldn’t be wrong. We understand why she does it but the fallout from her actions are bleak indeed.

Lindh has a less challenging role but he manages to hold his own with Dyrholm here. Krepper has a fairly colorless character to portray but he has a few moments and when he gets them, he makes the most of them. Most of the other aspects of the production – set design, music, cinematography and so forth – are professionally done.

There is a lot to unpack here and I won’t begin to go into all of it. Much of what you get out of this movie will depend on what you bring into it; your moral compass, your own belief system and ideas about sexuality. Your opinion about whether Anne is a villain or not will largely color how you feel about this movie. For my part, this is an excellent drama that gives you an awful lot to think about which is the kind of drama I live for. Very highly recommended.

REASONS TO SEE: Dyrholm is one of the most unsung actresses in Europe. A bleak, devastating picture. The ending ties very nicely to the beginning.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film is a little bit slow to develop.
FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic nudity and sex, some profanity and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Denmark’s official submission for the International Feature Film Award at the 92nd annual Academy Awards in 2020.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews: Metacritic: 67/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ben is Back
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
The Irishman

Pick of the Litter – December 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, John Boyega.  The saga of Star Wars comes to a final conclusion after 42 years following 12 movies along with untold animated episodes, television specials, novels and comic books. Director J.J. Abrams returns to the big chair to bring this all to a conclusion but fear not fans: a new trilogy will begin on December 16, 2022! December 20

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR:

Jumanji: The Next Level, December 13
Richard Jewell, December 13
Bombshell, December 20
Cats, December 20
1917, December 25
Little Women, December 25
Spies in Disguise, December 25

INDEPENDENT PICKS

A Million Little Pieces

(Momentum) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Odessa Young, Giovanni Ribisi. A young writer, having hit rock bottom with his alcohol and drug addictions, checks into rehab. Based on the memoirs of James Frey (which he later admitted were largely fictitious), this is the account of a man who resigned to death, found hope instead. December 6

The Aeronauts

(Amazon) Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox. An intrepid balloonist and a pioneer meteorologist ascend in a hot-air balloon to do weather research, but the ascent turns into a fight for survivor as they climb to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. December 6

In Fabric

(A24) Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill. Who would have thought that the scariest movie of 2019 might just be this English film about a cursed dress? Check the trailer out…but not while you’re alone at night. December 6

Marriage Story

(Netflix) Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda.  After a brief theatrical run, this Noah Baumbach film hits the streaming giant. Already creating a good deal of Oscar buzz, this movie chronicles the end of a marriage and the beginning of life. December 6

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

(NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adéle Haenel, Luána Bajrami, Valeria Golino. A young female painter gets a commission to paint the portrait of a prospective bride on a remote island in Brittany. The girl is terrified of her potential marriage and doesn’t want the painting to be completed, so the painter must work in secret, posing as a companion, a companionship that soon becomes genuine…and romantic. December 6

A Hidden Life

(Fox Searchlight) August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Matthias Schoenaerts. The story of Franz Jägerstatter, an Austrian who refused to fight for the Nazis during the Second World War – and what his refusal cost him. December 13

Rabid

(SHOUT!) Laura Vandervoort, Ted Atherton, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie. A young woman, horribly disfigured in a terrible accident, undergoes a radical untested stem cell treatment. As it turns out, the treatment seems to have been successful but there are unforeseen side effects. December 13

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Anthony Mackie. Actress Jean Seberg became a star of the French New Wave. Her support for civil rights activism brought the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. upon her and they set out to destroy her career and life. December 13

The Two Popes

The Two Popes

(Netflix) Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin, Sidney Cole. Pope Benedict, a staunch conservative, is the leader of a Catholic church in crisis. He soon develops a relationship with the cardinal who would one day become Pope Francis, one who has sought to reform the Church. This is the latest from acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles, Oscar-nominated for City of God. December 20

The Song of Names

(Sony Classics) Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Jonah Hauer-King, Catherine McCormack. A Polish boy of Jewish faith is adopted by an English family and becomes an amazing violin player. On the eve of his international concert debut, he disappears. His adopted brother spends the rest of his life trying to find him. December 25