In the last decade or so, cinema and entertainment have witnessed tectonic shifts not only in plots but also in narrative, tone, representation and perspectives. From the #metoo movement bringing predators to accountability like never before, to cinema recognizing its issues with whitewashing, stereotyping and stifling racial representation, movies and TV have undergone a tumultuous upheaval that’s allowed a greater proliferation of alternative narratives.
Media has also been transformed by new technology; streaming services are overtaking TV channels, churning out content at lightning speed, reaching a greater, global audience and throwing large sums of money at acclaimed writers, actors and directors to give legitimacy to their platforms. It’s been uncertain, yes but utterly exciting; the ensuing chaos has brought us some incredible new voices.
From director Jordan Peele debuting a chilling new kind of horror narrative with Get Out to films such as The Favourite, featuring women not only at the fore of the film but also at the pinnacle of power and providing a different take on history, to mind-bending series such as Dark and Love, Sex and Robots, entertainment is finally allowing other voices to be heard, voices that for centuries have only existed on the fringes of the screen.
At a time when even superhero movies, the stronghold of white men and an expression of their supreme savior complex, are making space for marginalized communities from women to ethnic minorities and giving voice to more than regurgitated themes, where do the so-called giants of cinema stand?
Their ranks are certainly tainted and depleted. Half of them can no longer stand as contenders to fame. Those whose reputations still stand untarnished face a different demon altogether – relevance. The last generation actors like Al Pacino and De Niro connect with are the millennials. Generation Z, the newest demographic ranging between 4-24 years of age have different cinematic preferences and heroes. They approach cinema differently; less reverential and more accessible. Movies are no longer the work of hefty cameras, Gen Z carry smart phones and document everything.
What, you may ask, does all this have to do with Scorsese’s The Irishmen? Turns out, a lot. It is important to understand context – what the landscape of cinema, a celluloid reflection of our best and worst attributes, looks like at the time of the release of this self-professed magnum opus. It makes you look at the movie in a different light.
There are a couple of major factors to look at when it comes to The Irishman.
Firstly, the medium of its release. Turns out the only media house that had the money and the resources to produce Scorsese’s vision was Netflix. The irony isn’t lost; boomers who bitterly criticize the millennials for “ruining everything” with new technology, now rely on those new age platforms for a global voice.
Another factor to consider is trash talk. Yes, in the most millennial fashion of all, Martin Scorsese threw shade at the Marvel and DC Universe, calling them out for being falsely titled cinema. According to Scorsese, in an interview that has now been scrutinized and argued about vehemently, the genre of superhero movies cannot be spoken of in the same breath as the high art he and his contemporaries produced. We will use Scorsese’s own view of work as a lens through which The Irishman can be examined.
Thirdly, its run time. 3 hours and 29 minutes to be exact. And last, but not the least, the story itself. And if you think the prelude to the movie review is long, wait till you actually sit down to watch it.
Three and a half hours is quite the time commitment to make in this day and age. It’s longer than any Lord of the Rings movie or even contemporary Hindi cinema and it also doesn’t open in theaters; you understand the importance of environment only when you sit down and really try getting into the film. It turns out to be a Herculean task. From kids and pets to random calls and sudden hunger pangs, you will be besieged by a plethora of distractions and The Irishman is a story that requires attention, not just because it has a complex plot but the narrative weaves back and forth between three different periods.
Unless you choose to break it into episode like segments or dedicate an entire evening (and we really mean an entire evening, with food, conversation and bathroom breaks inclusive) it’s hard to get through all three and half hours of The Irishman in one sitting. In a cinema, where you go with the exclusive purpose to watch a film, with the proper sound, lights dimmed and no phones policy, it makes sense. At home, it’s like getting your best friend to watch The Return of the King with you for old time’s sake. Your attention will meander and you will catch yourself missing details.
Now, given that Scorsese was so disparaging of the Marvel and DC franchises, it is only fair to view his latest offering with a similarly critical lens. While we agree that superhero movies aren’t cutting edge storytelling, there is a level of inclusivity to them of late that has been appreciated around the globe. Black Panther was nominated for a whooping seven Oscars and the attention to detail filmmakers paid to showcasing African culture in all its glory was matter of pride for the entire community world over.
Scorsese’s film breaks no molds. It’s a story of three white men, who used the system to their advantage while using and disposing of others around them with typical, top of the food chain disregard. A turn of luck story recounted by De Niro’s character Frank Sheeran, who starts out as a truck driver only to find a way in with Pennsylvania’s main crime family and becomes associated with Jimmy Hoffa, played by Pacino, who was a union leader with known ties to organized crime. Riveting, isn’t it?
What does Scorsese offer in The Irishman that hasn’t been said before? Is it fantastically shot and technically sound? Yes. Are Pesci, Pacino and De Niro excellent actors? Yes, they have accolades up and down the boulevard. Is the story a little bit like listening to your grandfather reminiscing about his life, revealing an unacknowledged dedication to greed and violence as a means of gaining money and power? Also, sadly yes.
There is no doubt that the famous trio makes good movies. Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street is a dynamic piece of storytelling, pulling you into the characters’ lives while filling you with revulsion for them as well. But what sets Scorsese’s newest offering apart from his Di Caprio led masterpiece is relevance. It’s a 140 million USD for letting three white men feel relevant, maybe even hip again; you know, given Netflix.
It is with great pain that we write that The Irishman fails to be the magnum opus it was touted and falls flat and shy of what it set out to offer. With no emotional depth, no exploration of humanity, no revealing new insight to the coldness of organized crime, The Irishman is a last hurrah by old white men who feel their time is coming to an end. And we’re looking forward to the newer voices in cinema to replace them.