When there is a lot of fuss surrounding a film, I sometimes feel it is imperative to watch, rather than fall completely out of touch with the culture. Which is why I sat through Martin Scorsese’s latest, The Irishman, which hit theatres briefly last month.
While reviewers suggested this is a film better seen on the bog screen, I watched in on Netflix because it was more convenient. Cheaper too since I already have a subscription. After all, the film is a Netflix production. None of the other studios were willing to allow Scorsese to paint his canvas as broadly as he wished.
The Irishman is the story of Frank Sheeran, who for all intents and purposes was a gangster masquerading as a union leader. He killed people who got in his boss’s (or his) way.
Just before he died, he claimed responsibility for the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, providing closure to one of America’s enduring mysteries. If he was telling the truth that is. Given the nature of the criminal mind, there jury remains out on that one and Hoffa is still officially missing, more than 40 years since he disappeared.
This film requires more of a time commitment than most movies, clocking in at three-and-a-half hours. That is why Scorsese couldn’t find someone other than Netflix to take a chance on the film. We have a shorter attention span than our forebears. Conventional wisdom is people won’t sit through more than two hours of movie, no matter how engrossing.
With a cast headed by Robert de Niro and Al Pacino it would be tough for this film to be less than appealing. Set in post-war America and running into the mid 1970s, there is a nice attention to detail. You do feel you are living the experience with the characters, not a spectator.
I must admit though, I couldn’t identify with any of the characters – there are no heroes in this movie. The only characters who evoke sympathy are Sheeran’s children, fearfully aware of what their father is like.
Did The Irishman need to be that long? I don’t think so. There is an attention to detail and the story told in full, but no viewer would have known if an hour had been cut out.
Yet with all the detail, there is so much that I would like to know that remained untold. The cooperation between the Teamsters union and organized crime to turn Las Vegas into a gambling mecca is part of the backstory to the film, but I would have liked more detail. But perhaps I’m quibbling. Scorsese wanted to tell the story of Hoffa and Sheeran, not the rise of Las Vegas.
Which means I was left with questions as to the workings of the union and the corruption involved, the extent of the ties to organized crime and the authorities’ efforts to stop them. It seemed almost that the film just skims the surface of a complex issue.
The Irishman was worth the time invested. I learned a little bit about the period – but not as much as I would have liked. Now I want to watch the 1992 biopic Hoffa to find out more. I wonder if it is on Netflix?