Scorsese’s epic ‘Irishman’ delivers everything you’d expect

Brad Keefe
"The Irishmen"

Since it was first announced, it’s been apparent that Netflix was all-in on Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

A sweeping crime-land epic from the noted director, it stands among his best work in years. And if it was a gamble Netflix made to gain respectability as a studio, it paid off in spades.

And now the dilemma for the audience: See “The Irishman” during its limited theatrical run (the movie opens this weekend in Columbus) or wait and watch it at home?

Scorsese brought out the big guns for this one: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and an out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. So, yeah, you want to see this in theaters.

“The Irishman” tells the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro) through the decades in a story that intersects with history. As a working-class truck driver in the 1950s, Sheeran has a chance encounter with mob boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci) that changes his life’s course.

As Sheeran rises the ranks to become a trusted and connected mafia hit man, he also becomes a close confidant of infamous Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

“The Irishman” is based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, a biography that makes claims about Sheeran that some have refuted. Take its accuracy with some skepticism, but it’s an enthralling story.

Perhaps the biggest knock on “The Irishman” is how much it feels in the wheelhouse of Scorsese and these actors. It is very much what you expect from a Scorsese mob movie, though that’s certainly not a bad thing.

The film also earns its 3 ½-hour running time and rewards the investment. We meet De Niro’s Sheeran in a retirement home, a tired and lonely man whose appearance belies his violent past.

It’s in those moments when De Niro’s performance shines. Yes, all three lead actors are fantastic, but it’s the quieter moments that elevate De Niro to one of his best achievements in years.

Of course, there’s a notable lack of women that tends to run through Scorsese’s work. Oscar winner Anna Paquin plays one of Sheeran’s daughters, a pivotal role in understanding his journey. She has about five lines of dialogue.

Saying that “The Irishman” is very much what you would expect may not sound like high praise, but it is. And it’s a cinematic experience worth having in theaters … although the home viewing experience would let you take those needed bathroom breaks.

Now playing in select theaters

4 stars out of 5

“The Irishmen”