The Best Films of the Decade: #5. The Irishman (2019)

| January 6, 2020
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The old decade is gone, and welcome 2020. And with it, here are my 10 favorite films of the last 10 years.

Image result for The Irishman screenshots

When it made the rounds of the festival circuit early in 2019, a major block of professional critics had announced with a fanfare that The Irishman was not only the best film of the year, but also the best film that Martin Scorsese had made since Goodfellas.  But then social media got hold of it and the conversation veered into a childish screed about the de-aging technology, the microscopic roles for women, the slow pace, Scorsese comments about the MCU, the ginormous budget, historical accuracy and of course, the film’s infamous 210-minute running time.

Yet, again, those who cleared through the murk (and actually saw the movie) weren’t complaining and now that the hype has died down and the Academy Awards are on the horizon, there is a much more appreciative outlook on the film itself.  And thank Heavens because I stand with the initial reviews in my opinion that this is the best film that Scorsese has made in 30 years.

The Irishman shows the work of an older, more mature filmmaker.  Possibly a person younger than 60 could not have made this film, or rather, could not have made it with the pacing and precision with which Scorsese directs this film.  It’s evenly paced, giving a space to all of the major players so that we know who they are and what their motivations are.

Based on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, the story follows the recollections of a former truck driver turned mob hitman named Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro) who, by course of chance, got entangled in the inner-workings of the mob and the teamsters as the two converged and then split over disagreements with the union’s boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

But if this were just a story of mobsters and their shenanigans it wouldn’t be much more than a retread of Goodfellas and Casino.  Instead, here is a movie about the long passage of time, of circumstance, of interpersonal relationships within the old-world system of gangsters, and of codes of honor and conduct.  Plus there is a bittersweet statement about the process of aging and the long stretch of one’s final years, leading to one of the saddest conclusions that Scorsese has yet devised.

There is so much to soak in here.  Long volumes will be written about this film, about its textures, its characters, its narrative structure, its time and space and its particular view of a point in American history seen through the lens of the evil that men do. 

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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