The Irishman

All the Money in the World


20 November 2019| No Comments on The Irishman     by Sean Chavel


I was there first day for it. On Christmas Day 1992, the Twentieth Century Fox studio released their delicious behemoth onto the public, “Hoffa,” which had all the ingredients for Oscar catnip. It was directed by Danny DeVito, who had three years prior made among the most merciless black comedies ever “The War of the Roses,” a feat in first-class filmmaking. His Teamster epic had the big whirling camera movements, bustling crowd scenes, and shots zeroing in on objects that were meant to serve as metaphors… that came up as empty metaphors. The rest of the movie had vacuous fake signifiers to it as well. At the center of it, Jack Nicholson was cast as Jimmy Hoffa. But it was a rare bad Nicholson performance; looking like he was injected with a tank of helium he barked his dialogue at a rate that would come off as an endless squelch.  

Martin Scorsese gets everything lucidly right that DeVito got wrong with his latest three and a half hour epic The Irishman. Hoffa doesn’t show up until the second hour, but when he does, Al Pacino gets the lust of life and the unintended crooked ethics of the man down pat, if blistering. Everything I always wanted to know about Jimmy Hoffa, about why he was really important and a sung hero to the working class man, why he had entanglements with mobsters and bad lawyers, why a little bit too much cut out of the pension pie signified his corruption, and finally why his loudness in his bid to reclaim his Teamster union power following his prison stint led to various underworld forces wanting him rubbed out, all of this given a comprehensive and cohesive treatment by Scorsese.

But Scorsese gives us a lot more than just that.

“The Irishman” is an often great American epic because, the way it opens my eyes, it sinuously traces how insidious forces of the 50’s and 60’s influenced and impacted politics and economics in this country in a way that paved an unsavory destiny not just for its participants in corruption, but for countless normal ancillary families everywhere.

The central star of the film is a de-aged and aging Robert DeNiro (the digital cosmetic surgery, so to speak, is what helped balloon the film’s budget to $150 million). DeNiro is an unassuming truck driver in the 50’s who finds himself delivering perfect steak cuts to mobsters, then agrees to other odd jobs, then misdemeanors, then serious criminal assignments. He answers to Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) for a huge bulk of his life, but Harvey Keitel has some serious mojo as a crime boss, and at some point DeNiro’s Frank Sheeran is recommended to go work for Jimmy Hoffa to blow up some cabs and then more.

One of the eye-popping flashbacks of the film is how Sheeran executed captured soldiers in World War II unblinkingly. It hardened him, and disaffected, Sheeran was the perfect impersonal cold-blooded guy to come into the fold to do phantom hitman work.

Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” which still has more vibrancy and chutzpah than any crime saga that there’s ever been. “The Irishman” has a more dense compilation of supporting characters; Scorsese uses a method of doing a little zoom-in then freeze frame then title card on certain characters to inform us of their fates years later. I welcome that, but at the same time there’s so much of that going on that this film begins more amorphous for the first hour.

You can never doubt Scorsese that he knows what’s he doing – the longer <em>The Irishman</em> goes on, the more all-encompassing Scorsese is able to delineate everything here, the way the Kennedy presidency affected mob life, the capitalist competition in big politics and in microcosm the small mom and pop business, the second in command puppets in the Teamsters getting their pockets lined by mobsters, the power of Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General destabilizing mob operations, the cult protection of Hoffa as well as the dismantling of his power. “The Irishman,” when you’re in sync with it, wires all of these things together with surgical precision.

The takedown of Hoffa that led to his disappearance is given such detailed breakdown that it’s not only convincing, it’s a purging of truth. I am dissatisfied with one aspect, though, we’re given a toss-off line as to what happened to Hoffa’s son (played by Jesse Plemons), but it really doesn’t say enough about why he didn’t talk to authorities about his point of view on his missing father.

The final thirty minutes haunts you, with Sheeran in an old folk’s home brewing in his knowledge about all his killings that led to a mysterious death. He has a daughter Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin, frozen in trepidation) who eventually stops speaking to him, cutting him off because she’s been afraid of her father her whole life. DeNiro in the best performance he’s given in years plays this cold-blooded sociopath with honorable regret, but I don’t think he’s weighed down by a shroud of guilt. I believe in a few moments, when he’s all frail bones in a wheelchair, Sheeran secretly wants to tell… to not purge guilt but to gloat (he says so little out of paranoia of the wrong people in his past catching up with him). That’s my interpretation, though, others take on it might vary. I feel the only warm and hearty compassion this man has is for family, for the daughter that has strayed. And it troubles this old killer and beguiles as to why he can’t see why she never cares to speak to him again. We can see why, but in his blind narcissism and “nostalgia” for old times he can’t.

Scorsese got the best of screenwriters to collaborate with him, Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Gangs of New York,” “Moneyball”), which worked off the memoir titled, “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt.

210 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “GoodFellas” (1990); “Hoffa” (1992); “Casino” (1995); “Gomorrah” (2008, Italy).

<blockquote><em>“It’s not like we’d be giving you the answers. Just because we know you know, you still know.”</em> – The producers of the game show “Twenty-One” </blockquote>

John Turturro is an extreme hasty dork, as the real-life figure Herbert Stempel, but he’s got an underdog quality the networks were for awhile able to sell. He is the long-running champion on America’s most popular ’50’s game show, but his ratings are declining. The producers believe it’s time to run him out. Ralph Fiennes is a well-groomed instructor of literature at Columbia University, as Charles Van Doren, a handsome intellectual with a glee for art and history. <em>Quiz Show</em>, by director Robert Redford and writer Paul Attanasio both at their most polished, remember a time when a handsome quiz show champion could be considered a national hero. A time when genius itself could be revered. But all that true knowledge was too good to be true.

During the course of the investigation led by Boston hotshot Robert Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a young Congressional lawyer, it is unearthed that the game shows are rigged. Certain winners help advertising and ratings approval, others don’t.

In a movie full of period art authenticity, the most crowning aspect is how there is a gentlemanly way during the ’50’s in how the investigation of a major scandal is conducted. Van Doren invites Goodwin out onto a boating ride, and later to play poker with his comrades, when it would have been easier to tell him to bugger off. They become friends and learn to respect each other; Goodwin needs Van Doren to divulge secrets of TV’s behind the scenes yet doesn’t want to implicate him.

<em>Quiz Show</em> is a film replete with intelligently written encounters, as well as pondering of morality. Yet Redford knows his way around a punchy as well as artful montage. During the taped shows, the high level of question difficulty level is impressive if not staggering. Compare it to now, we in the 21st century bluntly are a dumbed-down group by what passes as game show difficulty.

The stellar cast reaches for classiness, except for Turturro who is a mesmerizing mess of a man who seeks to bring the whole system down even if he has to bring himself down. Goodwin only wishes to bring down the fabrication of what’s sold on television, he is not looking to tear down personal reputations. Van Doren believes that if he is always truthful, as well as refined in etiquette, it will protect his reputation forever. None of them foresee what’s coming at the end.

The 1950’s may have looked innocent, but under the surface was a blanketing of corporate sham over America at large.

Also, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, Mira Sorvino, Paul Scofield, Christopher McDonald, Griffin Dunne, Barry Levinson, and a captivating Martin Scorsese as the wise old fraud CEO of the sponsor Geritol.

One of the stand-out qualities as well as a sedative quality of <em>Bugsy</em>, is Ennio Morricone’s music score. Passages are seductive and also elegiac. It is making a statement that the film takes place during a special time and a bygone era, the glamorous and sex-fueled 1940’s where hoods and movie stars occasionally hob-nobbed or bedded together.

Warren Beatty’s last two damn good performances were “Bulworth” (1998) and as gangster Bugsy Siegel in this 1991 biopic, two where he was brazen and a cock of the walk. Bugsy is temperamental and can go headlong into vicious beatings of those around that cheat him. Other times, he sees himself not as a gangster but as a vogue businessman.

Siegel is a married man with a daughter whom are shacked up in upper New York. He finds his was to Los Angeles, and is enamored by the extravagance of it all. Two things will take place during the course of Barry Levinson’s (director) and James Toback’s (writer) movie: first, Siegel will be enchanted by ingénue Virginia Hill (Annette Bening, being ravishing as well as a tough cookie) who will become his mistress because she has an appetite for power and is a match for his libido, and second, Siegel will come up with the concept of Las Vegas as the ultimate decadent getaway, a haven of <em>“sex, romance, money, adventure.”</em> He vows to raise a mere $6 million to create the Flamingo Hotel, and that is disconcerting to his fellow comrades whom think that is a ridiculous price tag for a hotel that sits out in a dustbowl.

<em>Bugsy</em> is a movie of fascinating details, it has a glitzy veneer, and it has a tug-of-war of man versus mistress’ desires; as well, a tug-of-war of man versus a wife named Esta he doesn’t really feel endeared by, just obligated by. Yet the Levinson insists too much on a brooding tone for much of it, and Morricone’s score, while beautiful, only cements that feeling. Although there is quite a lot that engrosses you, it feels lopsided ultimately – we want to know more about the early curses of the Flamingo beyond the grand opening as well as the eruption of Vegas as a playboy’s paradise. Still, the touches and details that are here are superb.  

Levinson and Toback chronicle how Bugsy Siegel was at the time seen as a gangster who began to be seen in the trades as a celebrity star, i.e., a larger than life personality who was becoming as big a name as some movie stars. He was a gangster who set out to break the rules and expland the limits of what is possible for his type.

With Joe Mantegna, Elliott Gould, Bebe Neuwirth, Harvey Keitel, and best, the cool-headed Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky.  

Tony Curtis as a press agent, Burt Lancaster as a smear columnist. I hadn’t cared for <em>Sweet Smell of Success</em> all that much the first time I watched it years ago. But I’m rewatching the first few minutes with its smoky, muggy nighttime cinematography and by the looks of it I’m thinking maybe it’s a masterpiece (as it’s been hailed). I slumbered back into the mode again, though, that I didn’t care much. Well, this time, I cared but only to a limited degree.

This, “A Face in the Crowd” (1957) and “Ace in the Hole” (1951) are often hailed as masterpieces on cynical and misanthropic 50’s life, yes, they are three that I’ve never been on the same wavelength on. I think one of the reasons I get tired of them real quick is that they quickly become nuance-free. Both J.J. Hunsecker, who makes a living smearing second-rate talent, and Sidney Falco, who makes a living feeding off of the former and is dependent on getting him to manipulate stories, are two guys who DO NOT LIKE LIVING. Where is the rat-a-tat joy and exuberance, or excelled self-satisfaction and power-trips, in these guys’ souls? They look mad and weathered, all the time. By the way, I like some of the jabs these three movies make, in impromptu moments. On the contrary, “All About Eve” (1950) is the classic I’m aghast by (it’s such a visually flat movie, I mean, for a movie considered a masterpiece it sure looks fuzzy and awful).

Lancaster plays the lowest of the low, but he’s a drinker. Curtis plays the meanest of desperate sons-of-bitches the way he sells out others, though at one point, I’m not so sure why he’s stooping. Other than the idea the screenplay insists he has to be ultra-cynical. End of the day, some compelling moments. I’m just not buying that during the 50’s that guys like these didn’t have amoral shits-and-giggles over the stuff they did. Lancaster and Curtis just want to play them as the “I’m tortured” angle.  

Charles Laughton a portly and wheezing barrister for the defense (this man needs rest and retirement!), the man on trial Tyrone Power accused of a murdering a widow for her money while his wife Marlene Dietrich is supposed to be his alibi that he was already home at 9:26 p.m. It’s a slow-building and talky set-up, albeit, sharply staged and photographed by Billy Wilder. Dietrich though is a powerhouse especially past the 70-minute mark where her willing testimony is against her own husband. A fraudulent marriage to begin with? Maybe. Power at first glance appears to be debonair, but he convincingly plays the putz. Dietrich, cunning. Laughton, burning from exhaustion, still deconstructing the case after the verdict.

<em>Witness for the Prosecution</em> is a fairly suspenseful procedural where the smarts are contributed from the characters, the case itself not so much. I’ve been spoiled by too many 90’s courtroom thrillers, so I thought. But there are a couple of disclosures in the final two-hander dialogue that tripped me up. The theatrics turn out to be very tasty.

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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