At 3 hours and 30 minutes, I managed to finish The Irishman in one sitting. For me, the run time was perfect (my pregnant wife napped for an hour in the middle) and I think director Martin Scorsese told the story he wanted to tell in time frame. Admittedly, I am a Scorsese/Mob Movie nerd and Goodfellas is the movie I have viewed the most times in my life, so my judgement about the movie may be skewed, but I doubt it. And if I am, you got a problem with that, tough guy?
In The Irishman, Scorsese gets the mafia movie cannon band back together and reunites Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, and Havery Keitel AND adds Al Pacino. Honestly, I would be excited to see this cast read from the phone book (or use the phone book to muffle a gun shot), but luckily, were treated to a much more exciting story which happened to be based on real life characters and real events.
In short, DeNiro plays Frank Sheeran, a World War Two veteran from Philadelphia turned semi truck driver turned mob assassin. Along his journey, Sheeran is befriended by Pennsylvania mob boss Russel Bufalino (Pesci) and American labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and their shared partnership and stories are revealed by an elderly Sheeran’s narration to his priest and to the FBI and by proxy, the audience.
Along with the narration, other Scorsese hallmarks are present: driving in cars, weddings, funerals, montages, and long single shots. I am not complaining, and in fact was happy to see the return to this classic style that seems to have disappeared in Scorsese’s most recent films. Also, along the veins of Casino (Don Rickles) and The King of Comedy (Jerry Lewis), Scorsese continues his habit of using actors, who are traditionally comedians, in dramatic roles and Ray Ramano does an excellent job of portraying mob/union attorney Bill Bufalino.
The real surprise, and a surprising delight at that, is Joe Pesci portraying Northern Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino. Pesci portrays Bufalino as a calculated, intelligent, likable, and an almost even kindly mob Don; a far cry from the mobsters Pesci portrayed in Goodfellas and Casino. Is it possible that I am just impressed because the contrast between his characters in the same genre are so diverse? I suppose so, but seeing Pesci as a charismatic, measured, and as slow to violence, sweet grandfatherly type mobster just isn’t a novelty; Pesci sells the role with confidence and charisma and reminds the audience of his scope, depth, and range.
Listen, if you like Scorsese mob movies, you will like The Irishman and Scorsese’s return to form. If you aren’t a fan of Scorsese, his style, or mob movies, watch at least the first hour if for nothing else than Pesci’s performance. You won’t be disappointed.
Will Adam Sandler ever be nominated, let alone win an Academy Award? Probably not, but with Uncut Gems Sandler once again shows that he has the dramatic chops to be taken seriously. With a career that includes celebrated and dramatic turns in Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, Funny People, and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Sandler shows the audience that given the right script, supporting cast, and direction, his acting is nothing to laugh at.
Directed by the Safdie Brothers, Uncut Gems, tells the tale of Howard Ratner (Sandler), a jewelry store owner and gambling addict, whose business and personal life are both in shambles. In many ways, Uncut Gems, is akin to a heist movie where the protagonist needs to pull off one last score before riding into the sunset. However, in this case, the heist isn’t robbing a bank, the heist is winning a monster parlay to pay off life threatening debt.
The Safdie brothers set the tone early with music, cuts, and dialogue that ramp up the levels of intensity and hold on to that level for the entirety of the film and as Ratner falls deeper into debt and family strife, Sandler’s performance believably echoes the throes of self made destruction his character finds himself in.
Helping Sandler sell this movie is his OUTSTANDING surrounding cast: LaKeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel, and Judd Hirsch could probably make ME seem like a good actor if given the right script and direction. However, these assets shouldn’t be held against Sandler; he holds his own and holds his own against with the talent he is surrounded with.
Is Sandler still the guy who fake peed in his pants in Billy Madison and fought Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore? Absolutely. Have I been a bit of a fan boy since watching him on Saturday Night Live during my formative years? Duh. Does he make a ton of sub-par movies that star his friends? Yep. Will he have to distance himself and his past from 40 something dorks like me who still enjoy the bad movies, to win serious hardware? Most definitely.
Maybe I am again suffering from recency AND nostalgia bias, but I believe Sandler does have the tools to win hardware and his best path would be to find a television series that he can sink his teeth into. Seeing Sandler work the same dramatic character for 10 hours could do a lot for this cause, and in this second Golden Age of Television there are more than enough producers, directors, and writers for him to work with to take the next step in his career.
May today, and every day after, be Nudie Magazine Day.
ASSASSINATIONS AND HEISTS
- I didn’t mind the CGI effects that made the leads in The Irishman look younger. It largely worked, but Father Time has surely slowed down the ferocity in which Robert DeNiro can throw a punch or land a kick. Computers can’t fix that.
- It was great to see so many alums from The Sopranos in The Irishman, particularly the talented Katherine Narducci; hopefully this will lead to more work for her.
- In Uncut Gems, Kevin Garnett is fun to watch and quite believable as, Kevin Garnett.
- Long time New York City sports talk radio host Mike Francesa also turns in a believable performance as Sandler’s bookie.
- LaKeith Stanfield is in everything these days and always a delight to watch.
- Judd Hirsch now, Judd Hirsch forever.