The Irishman (Criterion) Blu-Ray Review

Release: 30th November 2020
Cert: 15
Format: BR / DVD

In the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran gets involved with Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa — a powerful Teamster tied to organized crime.

When considering Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic, The Irishman, it is easy to lump it in with Casino, Goodfellas and Mean Streets; sprawling crime saga set on the streets within Italian American culture. But deep down, this 210-minute behemoth is as much a conspiracy thriller, ala Oliver Stone’s JFK, as it is gangster film. In fact, this whole film is built on Scorsese’s second most favourite thematic element after moral decay…paranoia.  

The Irishman has had lots of attention for all the wrong reasons. From early behind-the-scenes shots of DeNiro in laughable platform shoes, to the questionable end result of the landmark de-aging effects, to the ongoing furore that is streaming vs cinema release patterns; everybody seemed to be talking about the film, but no one was hailing it as a classic. Given some time to ruminate on its Netflix home, The Irishman is now being offered some much-needed credence as a physical home release courtesy of Criterion. Taken from the 4K intermediary, the film is downscaled here to standard high-definition blu-ray format; but it is a sacrifice worth making to ensure the maximum bitrate performance that physical media can maintain.

Scorsese’s long form pontification on the nature of time, age and regret is truly nothing short of brilliance. Slow burning, often times esoteric brilliance, but brilliance all the same. From the opening tracking shot through the halls of a meandering retirement home, Scorsese’s film is very much in the mode of a fable. Where Goodfellas utilised voice over to mimic a police confession, and Casino upped the ante to the notion of a tell-all biography, The Irishman has a wistful grandiosity to its geriatric provision. With a 3-day road trip to a wedding forming the backbone of the story, it is a memory within a memory that awakens from its romantic recollections to a tragic 3rd act that is almost Shakespearean in its execution.

With equal measure of drama and comedy, sometimes in the same scene (cue fish conversation), this may be a softer, more mellow aesthetic for Scorsese. But the fire in his belly is a strong as ever.

There is a new side to Scorsese on show here. A side we never knew we wanted to see, but definitely would like to see more of. Scorsese travelling through time. He has often found himself trapped in a specific period, but given the chance here to cruise from WW2, through the Cuban war, to the civil rights movement and beyond, the great auteur a huge canvas on which to paint; and he seems to enjoy every moment of it. In fact, the brief yet memorable sequence set in 1940’s Italy, gives birth to a notion that a Scorsese war epic might be something very special indeed.

In her essay on the film, included in this package, film critic Farran Smith wonders if The Irishman is a meta retrospective of Scorsese’s career. To the contrary, I believe that this may end up being a landmark chapter in the director’s progression to a new period of filmmaking. As much as his characters are looking backward, Scorsese seems very much focussed on what’s next.

Whatever that “next” may be, let’s just hope that Scorsese gets the big screen release his film’s deserve, because watching something this good in my dressing gown and pants just doesn’t seem to carry the right level of reverence.

Film Grade: A

Special Features:
As is typical for Criterion, this package comes with a healthy dose of academia. With this likely to be the only physical release of the film, it is also nice to see that they have also include a standardised ‘making-of’ as well. The roundtable is something previously released by Netflix, but everything is appears to be fresh material. It is far from an in-depth offering, but there is enough here to whet the appetite of even the most hardcore Scorsese fan…well, all except for a Director’s Commentary. But Scorsese has never really been one to produce these.

BONUS POINT for the stunning cover art.

Special Features Grade: B+

Getting The Irishman made was a very public uphill battle for Scorsese. But it was worth it. Not sure about painting houses, but I am tickled me pink with this gorgeous release.

Overall Grade: A-

Published by Bradley Williams

filmmaker. writer. father. husband. not really looking for vengeance in this life or the next (Follow me @iamBradWilliams)

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