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'The Irishman': At 3 Hours & 29 Minutes, it all Depends
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
05:31PM / Friday, December 06, 2019
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"Fuhgeddaboudit" was the advice from those who decided against climbing the movie mountain that is Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman," all 3 hours and 29 minutes of it. Dilemmas presented themselves. How many times will I have to go to the bathroom? Should we skip breakfast, have dinner now, pack a picnic lunch, or maybe even book a room close to the theater?
The destinies of whole lives were changed for those strict constructionists who wouldn't succumb to the tyranny of their bladders by availing themselves of the small screen, Netflix offering.
Me? Nope. I came this far in my moviegoing ... lived through the days of when films broke in midstream, before stadium seating coddled your frame and prior to the advent of whispering waitresses asking if you wanted cheese-drenched nachos. I will see it on the big silver screen and damn the consequences. Thus began my journey, knowing full well that, unlike "The Ten Commandments" (1956) and several other movies of storied length, there'd be no intermission and probably no reward of a bumper sticker noting my feat, nothing I might attach next to the one informing, "This Car Climbed Mount Washington."
Thirsty, intentionally dehydrated, I was ready. Gosh knows that any hasty return from the facilities would surely bring those dreaded words from my movie partner: "YOU MISSED THE MOST IMPORTANT PART." And of course, said unseen portion, to forever be known as the "lost footage," will stunt your cinema knowledge in the same way that being out sick with a cold when they taught the 8-Times Table in grammar school kept you from becoming president. And you know what tragedy that unleashed.
All this said, for those still wondering whether to attempt the moviegoing version of crossing the Great Plains by covered wagon, Scorsese's encyclopedic buffet of things Wise Guys is pretty good but not necessarily great. However, for those who simply can't get enough gangland jargon, non-stop mob hits and the recitation of Cosa Nostra doctrine, and who would like a respite from constantly re-running "Goodfellas" (1990) and all three "Godfather" films, "The Irishman" is a competent addendum. The length and violently charged breadth of this blood-stained extravaganza in the hands of a lesser director would have doubtlessly proved an unwieldy mishmash.
Act One, Scene One, we meet Robert De Niro's Frank Sheeran, hitman/Teamster boss, at a ripe old age in a nursing facility from whence he relates his life's tale to nurses' aides, visiting FBI agents and sometimes just us. Expertly shuffled flashbacks aided by a terrific switching of period correct art direction and hi-tech enhanced makeup draw us into this sordid tale of tarnished majesty. It's ugly, controversial and, we unfortunately suspect, an educative window into that part of our nature we've been trying to purge ever since Oog clobbered Eek on the head for that wooly mammoth he then dragged to his cave.
Indeed, fans of the brand, admittedly or not, become at least temporarily enamored of this parallel civilization that thumbs its broken nose at what normal society calls the straight and narrow. The organized mobster rationalizes that the above-ground world is a con and weighted against his ilk. Whereas, in the agency of the Mafia, the playing field is evened.
But unlike most permutations of this evil culture, the Scorsese take this go-round has deflated the air of any romanticization. While De Niro's assassin is full-bodied, he is sociopathically bereft of any true humanity. Like his mentor, Joe Pesci's fantastically drawn bigwig, Russell Bufalino, he is merely a butchering automaton, his movements and decisions geared to prevailing in the hideous, kill or be killed chess game in which he is a zealous participant.
Pending a rather fatalistic, philosophical wrap-up in the last half hour, Scorsese whimsically counterpunches the perpetrated bravado with brief, printed overlays identifying a character and informing when and if they were ultimately rubbed out or sent to the pokey. It's a reminder that for all the glorification rendered these cold-blooded murderers in the service of our guilty thrills, crime usually doesn't pay. These are bad men who "don't need no stinkin'" rationale.
But sadly, as was exampled with G.D. Spradlin's crooked Senator Pat Geary in "The Godfather: Part II" (1974) and as is seen every day in the finaglings of a Congress that has all but abrogated its constitutional duty in defense of power-hungry corruption, the justification is regularly fed.
Still, the true nature of what bad is must be constantly hammered home, lest these pretenders at government foist upon us their own, self-serving definition.
The question is, do you want to immerse yourself for three hours and 29 minutes in this albeit expertly crafted iteration of the infernal underground where "The Irishman" wreaks his iniquities? Setting my own personal record, I didn't leave my seat once, if that helps you.
"The Irishman," rated R, is a Netflix release directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. Running time: 209 minutes
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