The Irishman Movie Review

There are the types of characters we have met before in Martin Scorsese’s gangster genre works, but never quite like this. There are characters we never really meet here, but we’re introduced to the way they die. There are characters that never speak, but we’re aware of their thought process. And it’s that time consuming process that the filmmaker goes through here that makes The Irishman feel both invigorating and melancholy.

The thought of reuniting this director, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and anything involving the Mob is enough to get many running to the theater or, in this case for most, Netflix. Add Al Pacino to the mix (working with Scorsese somehow for the first time) and there’s more incentive. Yet this is far from a rehash of previous material. It’s an often stunning work that stands on its own merits. There is no coasting happening with De Niro or Pacino and that’s something they can rightfully be accused of in the past quarter century or so. The pair (who shared just a couple of scenes in Michael Mann’s masterful Heat and greater screen time in the unfortunate Righteous Kill) contribute some of their finest work in years. For Pesci, he hasn’t worked in years and his return finds him playing a Mafia boss but in a way you won’t expect.

The unexpected is key here and welcome. Just as GoodFellas gave audiences a final act kinetically viewed from Ray Liotta’s coked out perspective, the last segment of The Irishman is made from a considerably lower dosage. As De Niro’s character enters his final act, we witness him finally pause to consider his existence. And it’s not of a glorified nature.

In this tale based on certain truths and possible myths, De Niro is Frank Sheeran. He’s a World War II vet and truck driver residing in Philadelphia. Frank saw plenty of combat overseas and he’s willing to have a career of killing back stateside. His employer becomes Russell Bufalino (Pesci), the area crime boss and confidante of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Frank soon becomes Hoffa’s body man, enforcer, and trusted friend. Whether on assignment from Bufalino or Jimmy, Frank’s speciality is to “paint houses” (code for taking out whomever he’s ordered to). He’s skilled at it and the screenplay from Steven Zaillian gets into the occasional minutia and necessary strategy of carrying out such tasks.

Hoffa’s bigger than life personality (something Pacino is perfect to portray) often conflicts with the more buttoned down approach of Bufalino (something Pesci is more surprisingly adept at). This frequently leaves Frank in the position of mediator of murder or no murder. There’s plenty of it here, but The Irishman is noticeably less bloody than GoodFellas or Casino. 

De Niro has by far the most screen time and his work is perhaps the most impressive in a picture loaded with two other heavyweights in excellent form. It’s ultimately his film to carry and he does so with an ability he hasn’t shown in a long while. There’s plenty of other familiar faces from Harvey Keitel as another boss to Ray Romano as the group’s very busy attorney. Frank’s family is given the short shrift, but that’s no accident as he doesn’t have much time for them. His relationship with one daughter played by Anna Paquin is a constant thread and it’s a quiet and powerful one.

The Irishman transpires over several decades and Scorsese made the choice not to use younger actors to play the main roles in their 30s and beyond. This is done through de-aging visual effects that, while certainly not perfect, are the best I’ve seen yet. Most importantly, I didn’t find it as a distraction after a couple of minutes.

Just as Hoffa is obsessed with punctuality, The Irishman is about time. In this world of criminals and betrayal and violence, time moves fast. The film itself doesn’t at three and a half hours. That didn’t feel overly padded to me. This is good company. However, as this draws to a close, time slows down for some characters as well. And as Scorsese and three legendary actors expertly show for 209 minutes, some doors for reflection are slammed shut with a bang. Others are left slightly open for it.

**** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Irishman

The biggest Oscar domino not yet fall screened has been Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the three and a half hour gangster drama headlined by genre legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. That changed today. The epic opened the New York Film Festival exactly two months ahead of its Netflix debut. And – no real surprise here – it appears to be a serious contender.

The Irishman is said to be both a humorous and contemplative piece with De Niro and Pacino providing their best performances in years. Same goes for Pesci as he’s been away from the silver screen for nearly a decade.

While nearly all reviews are positive, they’re not all raves. My early hunch is that this will earn Picture and Director nods. Winning is another story and that is one still left to play out. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 100%. This will likely mark Scorsese’s ninth nomination (he’s won once for 2006’s The Departed). That’s also his only effort to be named Best Picture. The Adapted Screenplay from Steve Zaillian should also make the final cut.

Down the line recognition presents many chances including Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, and Visual Effects. For the latter, the de-aging technology that allows its stars to look younger could attract the notice of that branch. The pic would actually be the second Scorsese title to get a Visual Effects nod after 2011’s Hugo (which won).

Now to the thespians. The thinking is that De Niro will be in lead actor with Pacino and Pesci in supporting. It sounds as if they will be the trio in contention. De Niro would gunning for his eighth appearance as a nominee. He won Supporting for 1974’s The Godfather Part II and lead in Scorsese’s 1980 masterwork Raging Bull. I’ve had him listed in spot #6 for some time in my weekly rankings. I could still see him missing the cut as his role is said to be less flashy than his costars, but I think his chances are better today. Numerous critics have stated that Pacino steals the show and he’s going for nomination #9 (his sole win is 1992’s Scent of a Woman). Like De Niro, I’ve had him slotted sixth and I expect him to enter the top five in a supporting actor race that is already jam packed. As for Pesci (who won for 1990’s Scorsese classic GoodFellas), other reviewers are singling him out. That opens the door for two men to be nominated in the supporting race for the second time since 1991 when Harvey Keitel (who’s also in this) and Ben Kingsley were recognized for Bugsy. This occurred again two years ago with Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Pesci is not the near sure thing Pacino is, but it could happen.

Bottom line: The Irishman did what it needed to do in the Big Apple to establish itself as a player in awards chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Bad Education

Few actors had a better movie year as Hugh Jackman’s 2017 with two smash hits – Logan and The Greatest Showman. Yet despite the acclaim, Oscar didn’t honor him. In fact, his sole nod came five years prior in Les Miserables. Last year’s The Front Runner looked like awards bait, but it fizzled quickly.

Now we have Bad Education for possible consideration as it screened in Toronto. The comedic drama tells the true tale of a beloved New York school superintendent cheating the system. And Variety has called it Jackman’s best performance to date. Other reviews also praise his work in this effort from director Cory Finley. This is his sophomore film following 2017’s well regarded Thoroughbreds. Costars include Allison Janney (who did win in 2017 for I, Tonya), Geraldine Viswanathan, Ray Romano, and Alex Woolf.

I say possible consideration because Education has yet to land a distributor. However, that shouldn’t be a problem. The real question is whether this gets released in 2019. If so, I would expect a campaign to be mounted for its lead actor. And as I’ve said repeatedly in the past few festival days, that race is looking incredibly competitive. Unlike The Front Runner, I would anticipate some critics vying for his inclusion. It could be a long shot, but he’s in the large mix. A Golden Globe nod in Musical/Comedy might be more reachable. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2017: The Year of Kumail Nanjiani

It was early in 2017 when The Big Sick started garnering buzz from its screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Nearly one year later, the unique rom com was a smashing box office success and established its star/co-writer as a fresh and exciting new voice on the big screen.

Kumail Nanjiani was best known for his role on HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and stand-up. He had appeared in numerous supporting roles in comedies such as Central Intelligence and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but The Big Sick was something else entirely.

The Pakistani born performer penned the screenplay with wife Emily V. Gordon. Loosely based on their relationship and their dealings with her illness and cultural issues, the pic resonated with critics and audiences. The reported $5 million production took in $43 million stateside with a sizzling 98% Rotten Tomatoes score. Sick could soon attract Oscar attention, especially for Best Original Screenplay and Holly Hunter in Supporting Actress.

For Nanjiani, the year began with a festival screening that turned his movie into an audience favorite throughout the year. 2017 ends with his many new fans eager to see his next move.

The Big Sick Movie Review

The Big Sick is a pleasing combination of a romantic comedy that feels one part wholly original as it comes from the real life experiences of stand-up Kumail Nanjiani, essentially playing himself. The other part is not without imperfections and that could be called the Judd Apatow part, who produced it. Like Apatow’s best work, there’s plenty of heart, laughs, and observations about the comedy scene. Like even in his best work (and certainly his most middling pictures), it’s a bit too long and occasionally veers into semi-stale territory.

That said, Nanjiani’s creation takes you out of typical genre territory for most of its two-hour running time. Sick was written by its star and wife Emily V. Gordon and it takes a page out of their true life experiences. Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani portrays Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani, who’s struggling to make ends meet doing night gigs in Chicago while also driving an Uber. One night he’s pleasantly heckled on stage by Emily (Zoe Kazan) and the two hit it off post show. A one-night stand that transpires over several nights occurs – in the sense that they keep saying it’s the last one-night stand. She’s busy in grad school, he’s doing his career thing. Before they know it, they realize they’re in some sort of feeling resembling love yet they dare not say it.

Kumail can’t tell his family of his new whatever he and Emily call it. His background demands that he enter an arranged marriage with a girl of Pakistani ethnicity and his parents (especially Mom) bring a slew of such women to the dinner table every time Kumail comes to dinner. It’s this complication that soon ends the relationship.

The title comes into play when Emily is rushed to the hospital and put into a medically induced coma. Kumail is informed and he soon meets Emily’s folks (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). Their knowledge of their daughter’s former relationship is the opposite of Kumail’s parents. They know everything and aren’t exactly warm to the idea of Kumail hanging around the ICU.

The Big Sick, more often than not, avoids many typical rom com cliches. Some of this is due to one of the leads not being available for a solid portion of the proceedings. This allows Kumail and Emily’s parents to develop a fascinating dynamic. Veteran performers Hunter and Romano make the best of their parts and their marriage is an interesting one in itself. The screenplay is refreshingly honest in a way that few in the genre manage to be. Kumail is far from perfect in how he handles situations, but not in an overly broad silly way. He’s trying and it’s not easy to balance his cultural leanings and his feelings for Emily. Kazan is charming and vulnerable as Emily, as she slowly realizes the difficulties involved with dating Kumail.

We get a little bit of exploring the stand-up comedy scene as Kumail is trying to land a sought after spot at the Montreal Comedy Festival. There’s nothing terribly new about that aspect of the script (Apatow covered it well in Funny People), but Nanjiani is certainly familiar with it. And that’s what really puts The Big Sick in satisfying territory. Nanjiani and his spouse write what they know – each other. And you root for them to work it all out.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Big Sick

Another day, another Sundance Film Festival write up of a film that could have 2017 awards hopes. The Big Sick has emerged as a huge audience favorite in Utah. This romantic comedy was written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon and borrows from their real life experiences as a mixed faith couple. Nanjiani (who you may recognize from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) also headlines and costars include Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano. Judd Apatow serves as a producer.

Sick is said to be a crowd pleaser and Amazon showed a lot of their faith with it when they plunked down $12 million for the distribution rights. When it does receive its stateside release, it could have a sleeper status potential.

Will that translate into awards chatter? It’s doubtful as comedies always have an uphill battle for recognition. Yet one category where it could pop up is Original Screenplay, depending on level of competition.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

img_0199

Ice Age: Collision Course Box Office Prediction

20th Century Fox’s Ice Age franchise keeps rolling along as Collision Course glides into theaters next weekend. It is the fifth in the series that began in 2002 and the four previous pictures have performed pleasingly. Predecessor Continental Drift was the lowest grosser thus far, but not by much with a $46 million opening and $161 million overall take. 2009’s Dawn of the Dinosaurs was the series high point with $196 million.

Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, and Simon Pegg (pulling double duty over the weekend with Star Trek Beyond) all return for their voice over work with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Adam Devine, and Nick Offerman joining the party.

Animals and animation have been a potent box office combo in 2016 and that does mean competition as The Secret Life of Pets should still be raking it in in weekend #3. That could dent Collision Course a bit and I do expect it to post the lowest opening weekend of the franchise so far by a rather substantial margin.

Ice Age: Collision Course opening weekend prediction: $28.3 million

For my Star Trek Beyond prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/13/star-trek-beyond-box-office-prediction/

For my Lights Out prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/15/lights-out-box-office-prediction/