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The Irishman review: a review of I Heard You Paint House

Riley Gray
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The Irishman Review:

 A Review of I Heard You Paint Houses by Riley Gray


    Over the years, infamous director, Martin Scorsese has amassed a ranged and eclectic body of work that has universally cemented him as one of the most renowned filmmakers currently working in the industry. As a result, his filmography contains many acclaimed classics varying from 1976’s controversial character-study, Taxi Driver to more recent films such as 2010’s  mystery/thriller, Shutter Island. Scorsese’s name is, however, most commonly associated with Crime-Dramas, usually involving the Italian Mafia(I.e, what is disputably his masterpiece, the 1990 mob-flick, Goodfellas). His most recent epic, The Irishman(or I Heard You Paint Houses; the title of the novel in which the film is based on, by Charles Brandt, is utilized in the movie’s opening and is seen again in its credits) seems to be a nostalgic love letter to its maker’s aforementioned, mafia-based, affinitive hayday. Scorsese’s return-to-form is suffused with an inarguable sense of control which is no doubt a byproduct of increased experience and this shows up as a major theme in his new film. The picture is tighter, more cohesive, and less frenetic than the director’s previous magnum opi, Casino and Goodfellas, to which it pays tribute to unashamedly. Unfortunately, this new developed shift comes with both pros and cons.

Plot Summary:

The plot unravels through three connected story threads,spanning multiple decades apart, over the course of the films girthy, three hour and thirty minute, runtime. The film is told in Scorcese’s hallmark reflective-narrative style that motifically borders on documentorial. We are introduced to the world through an elderly, Frank Sheeran(Robert De Niro), the titular Irishman, as he recounts his initial envelopment into the italian crime syndicate via Russell Bufalino(brought to life by a juxtaposingly reserved performance from Joe Pesci). Eventually, Frank begins to murder people for the mob and gains notoriety. His success in this new vocation, in turn, brings him to the attention of infamous Jimmy Hoffa(Al Pacino) and his Teamster Union. The movie treds through true events apropos to Hoffa’s turbulent battle with Bobby Kennedy and his strained relationship with the Italian mob through Sheeran’s eyes as he works as the famous politician’s bodyguard. The two men form a relationship that eventually lead to tumultuous results for both of them. 


 There is a certain cinema magic seeing De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci act together; The three stars have an impeccable and indisputable chemistry. Each actor does well in their respective roles, albeit, Pacino falls short in comparison to De Niro and Pesci. His performance as Hoffa is bombastic and platitudinously Pacinoesq; Most importantly, he fails to give the same liveliness to his character as his fellow stars. In more layman terms, his performance and depiction of a character thirty years younger than himself does not hold the same credibility as De Niro’s Sheeran and Pesci’s Buffalino. De Niro, on the other hand, conveys a spry youthfulness in certain earlier scenes in the film that are nothing short of award worthy. We watch as Frank’s mannerisms and disposition towards life alter with age. De Niro molds his spoken affect and inflections to match the age of his character; a lesser actor could not have achieved this feat with such efficacy. The Irishman/I Heard You Paint Houses’ diegesis is also brought to life through a fantastic supporting cast. Two note-worthy performances come from actor’s Ray Romano and Steven Graham. Romano plays Bill Buffalino, a quick-talking lawyer for Hoffa and the mob; His loud-mouthed and necessarily comical portrayal adds a certain humor. Romano was casted perfectly. On the other hand, Steven Graham plays a more serious role in the film as spicy mafioso, Tony pro, Hoffa’s main adversary throughout the movie and eventually his(hoffa) downfall.

Technical Aspects:

The Irishman also deserves laudation for its technical prowess and special-effects. Firstly, the set design is nothing short of superb. As our central characters age, the world around them does as well. We watch the making-models of cars transform from the 50’s to the 70’s and the rustic city streets of detroit slowly accrue a neon-glow. Progressive new visual technology was also used to de-age our stars(this effect was manifested by the efforts of Industrial Light and Magic and implemented a multi-camera and lens structure to return the actors to a more youthful state). The cinematography(is also top-notch, however, there is an over-abundance of the banal shot-reverse-shot cut structure. Academy award nominated cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, shows the full extent of his abilities in the films climax. In the climax, the same still-shots are used over the course of a very specific event. The same shots transpire through the scene and the conclusion of this specific tactic creates something powerful and unique. The score of the film is also drowned out for the purpose of tension building in this scene and the choice to do so by Scorsese is masterfully effective and emotional.

Themes and Meanings:

The Irishman is essentially about age and the passage of time and results as a thorough thematic breakdown involving the importance of growth and change. Scorsese seems to be paying homage to himself by regressing back to his past stardom. He is doing this intentionally, bringing back all his famous actorial collaborators in the process to depict a more realized notalgia piece. The Irishman brandishes all the tropes one would expect from a scorsese crime-drama(I.e, heavy documentary-styled narration, extreme violence, criminalistic sabotage, close-relationship disintegration, etc). This, unfortunately, leaves this multi-titled epic with some of the same issues that its siblings suffered. For example, in Casino, information is superfluously spluttered throughout in an incredibly unnecessary way that diverts the attention away from the narrative and delves the audience deeply into the world. Scorcese refuses to ameliorate this flaw of meandering but...this is exactly why The Irishman is a superior experience to some of his past work. Intent. The major specific that sets this film apart from Scorsese’s earlier works is a matter entirely founded by thematic depth. There is a deeper reason for the sheer amount of information we are given. The movie, again, is about age and things changing over time. It is a metaphorical look in the mirror for its director, an importance that supersedes the narrative contrivaties he helped to found. When looked at in this manner, the movie shows its own unique sense of immaculateness. 

Final Thoughts and Grade: A-

In conclusion, Martin Scorcese’s new classic will no doubt go on to be nominated for a multitude of awards and most likely win several. It is a film about growth and wisdom through experience and age. The movie can sometimes meander and present itself as overindulgent but these flaws help to elaborate on it’s director’s hindsight and reflective look back into a period of his career. In my opinion, hard-core Scorsese addicts will love the film for what it is and some will be turned away from it due to its length. I personally thought it was a great film and recommend it. A-

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