I wasn’t going to write about this movie. I watch a lot of movies and I don’t write critically about most of them, partly because I know any film is a labor of love for someone involved and I don’t want to hurt anybody, partly because none of the films I’ve really had problems with are Oscar nominees for Best Picture.
But the Irishman is up for so many Oscars. So many Oscars.
Here are all the awards Netflix’s The Irishman is up for tomorrow:
- Best Picture
- Best Director (Martin Scorsese)
- Best Supporting Actor (Al Pacino)
- Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
- Best Adapted Screenplay
- Best Cinematography
- Best Visual Effects
- Best Costume Design
- Best Production Design
- Best Film Editing
When I realized how many awards The Irishman was up for, I was like, screw it. Here we go. I mean, it’s not like The Irishman is going to be damaged by my bad review.
Because, friends, this movie is bad.
[SOME MINOR SPOILERS BELOW]
There are two major reasons The Irishman is bad.
Reason 1: Pacing
The first sign I was in for a bad time was when I realized how long The Irishman is–three hours and twenty-nine minutes. 3:29.
I know, I know; the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings were just as long, and I sat through those gladly (though not lightly). I don’t have a problem watching something for three-and-a-half hours as long as I’m interested. Part of grabbing and maintaining viewer interest is hitting high and low points of energy at certain times, having certain questions the viewer is trying to answer, mysteries that need to be solved, or characters that we just really like to watch, or care about very much. Essentially, pacing. This is Martin Scorsese’s problem. A film over 200 minutes long cannot follow traditional 90-minute or even 120-minute pacing structures. For me, the experience of this bloated watch time was an excruciatingly slog to grasp the film’s story structure, the stakes, anything, and me checking my watch at the end of every scene.
3:29 is a problem if I’m aware of every minute dragging by. I couldn’t get through it in one sitting.
Here’s the deal. Martin Scorsese has done some great films. Taxi Driver. The Departed. The Aviator. Were there some good shots? Sure. Were there good performances? Yeah. But just because your name is Martin Scorsese doesn’t mean you can chuck craft and self-editing for arrogant self-indulgence.
Al Pacino’s character is introduced far too late.
The climax is disproportionately short. There is little to no emotional payoff for time invested.
The framing device (De Niro’s character telling the story) falls apart under scrutiny (who the heck is he supposed to be spilling his guts to?).
So to me, one of the most ridiculous award nominations is Best Adapted Screenplay. I haven’t read the book this is based on, but I would almost guarantee it to be better if only in terms of pacing. And in that category, The Irishman is up against Little Women, which is the best adapted screenplay I’ve ever seen. (Highly recommend!)
Reason 2: Prioritizing Nostalgia over Believability
I did learn something from watching The Irishman. Aging young actors has its pitfalls, but so does “youthing” older ones. The mastery of craft exhibited in particular by Robert De Niro is overshadowed by issues of mobility in scenes when he is supposed to be a young version of himself. Among the issues of “youthing” was the bizarre experience of knowing what De Niro looked like at that age, and realizing that the “youthing” treatment made him look like an entirely different, third person. It was distracting as hell.
I am definitely not against seeing older actors on screen; Pacino was actually one of the reasons I decided to watch The Irishman. He’s one of my favorite actors, and I was excited that he was doing new work. I just wish Martin Scorsese had utilized De Niro and Pacino according to their current strengths rather than trying to recapture some nostalgic feeling and in the process demanding an almost-impossible suspension of belief from his audience.
Pairing De Niro and Pacino for a film that involves crime politics is a favorite Hollywood move. They were billed together first in The Godfather Part II in 1974 (though they were not on screen at the same time) and then acted together in the classic cop movie Heat in 1995. Here, their chemistry is overshadowed by incongruously stiff necks and slurred dialogue.
I would love to see De Niro and Pacino together in a different kind of movie that would demand something from them that’s new and exciting, rather than trying to recapture something we’ve already seen them do really well in the past that just doesn’t feel the same in 2020.
Which Adds Up To: Just Not Engaging
Academy politics aside (because let’s be real here, with names like Scorsese, De Niro, and Pacino attached, that’s all these nominations are), in order for a movie to be “good” or even “best,” it’s got to, got to engage its viewers. We have to care. And friends, I’ve viewed a heck of a lot of movies. I’d even venture that I’m a good viewer of movies. The only level on which I was engaged with The Irishman was in analyzing why I wasn’t engaged.
(Oh, and I was super engaged in my imaginary subplot in which De Niro and Pacino’s characters were actually lovers. Let me tell you, the stakes of male lovers in the 60s-70s mob/union/prison scene would have electrified that entire 3:29-minute movie…)
The Irishman is up against hyper-engaging, fascinating movies like Joker, Little Women, and Marriage Story. I guess a landslide of wins for The Irishman will show just how out of touch the Academy is–though hasn’t that already been proven? Oh, well. At the very least, if The Irishman wins big, just know I’ll be rolling my eyes over here on the other end of the internet.