Home » The Irishman review – Al Pacino is Career-defining in Scorsese’s Beautifully Remorseful Mob Picture | London Film Festival 2019

The Irishman review – Al Pacino is Career-defining in Scorsese’s Beautifully Remorseful Mob Picture | London Film Festival 2019

by Ben Rolph

Martin Scorsese is back and has returned with one of his best films ever. It’s a sweet mix of Goodfellas and Silence, The Irishman balances violence, melancholy and dishonesty in a perfectly harmonious way that’s so beautifully done – you may find yourself choking up a little. It stars the greatest cast you’ve ever heard of; Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel to only name a few. These timeless actors capture the nostalgic feel of Goodfellas, whilst being more inwards and fragile as in the end The Irishman could be seen as a study of age.

Like Mean Streets and Goodfellas, Scorsese brings his ‘Doo Wop’ style, heavily utilising timeless songs of the 50’s and 60’s. It is a glorious time. The music almost acts as a narrative figure, neatly aiding along to Thelma Schoonmaker’s ever-sharp editing. There is a timeless nature to The Irishman, it could’ve been made thirty years ago, or today, that magic Scorsese captures is unparalleled and is flooring.


Philadelphia mobster Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a truck driver, stern and loyal he does what is asked, but slips in odd jobs here and there, causing some concern with his reliability. Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a senior mobster who takes a liking to Frank after an initial encounter after breaking down on a highway. Frank is told a friend at the top is in need of help, Bufalino introduces Frank to Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), a charming but determined politician. Hoffa and Sheeran form a beautiful friendship, the two are complete opposites but work so well.

Quite simply put, The Irishman is cinema at its finest, Scorsese has topped himself once more. Strikingly, Scorsese captures such beauty that will make your chest ripple with awe, the pictures that are seen are simply nonchalant and mesmerising. Finally after decades of shooting for the same roles and being friends, De Niro and Pacino finally team up, and it sure was well worth the wait. This may just be Al Pacino’s best performance to date, potentially outdoing his work in The Godfather? That is saying a hell of a lot.


Both Pacino and De Niro have their Oscars waiting. De Niro is fantastically perfect, bringing his classic charm, wit and this time, something more melancholic and spiritual. Whilst both De Niro and Pacino deliver performances of brilliance, so does the now returned king of acting – Joe Pesci. Pesci surprises with his silently-spoken and nimble performance of an aging mob boss – returning stronger than ever.

It starts with a long tracking-shot inside a retirement home, until we finally meet an elderly Frank Sheeran. The film is told through a series of extended flashbacks in which Scorsese and screenwriter Steve Zaillian craft a continuous link between past and present through the use of narration. Told through Frank’s vision, we fall in line naturally with Frank, but also fall captive to Hoffa’s unrelenting charm and if you know what the film is based upon, you can’t help but feel the tension rising through the film’s narrative development. Nearing the end there is a new found sense of remorse and the coming to terms of now what looks like irrational action, Frank painted houses and it was no big deal.


Scorsese portrays violence as brash and irrational, it’s all in the moment and is unforgiving. But it’s not forgotten and has an impact on all who surround Frank, that lasting effect ripples throughout, causing unknown repercussions and allows for the opening up of Frank’s inner-self and his later remorse for those specific people he affected. It’s the contrast with the violence and the beautifully charming nature of the blossoming lives of Frank’s children that highlights his morality, in a beautiful way.

The film clocks in with a run time that is extensive to most, yet it’s never felt, in fact there is a desire for more – to never end. That’s a testament to The Irishman firing on top-form in all locations, including; direction, cinematography, screenplay, acting, production design, costumes and soundtrack. The Irishman is real movie magic.


The Irishman is one of Scorsese’s best. Scorsese has done it again, dare I say it, this is another masterpiece from the master of cinema. Al Pacino delivers a career-defining performance, with De Niro and Pesci equally shining. It’s a beautifully melancholic study, a perfect mix of his work in Goodfellas and Silence.

5/5 Stars ★★★★★

Ben Rolph

THE IRISHMAN premiered at NYFF 2019 and is playing at the BFI London Film Festival NOW



Zimboni December 1, 2019 || 1:09 pm - 1:09 pm

DeNiro and Pacino first teamed up in the 2005 film Heat. They’ve done at least one other film together before this latest. The Irishman is their third pairing.

George T Peppel July 12, 2020 || 11:11 am - 11:11 am

Thank you! I have seen so many reviews and articles both before and after the release of this movie that say it’s the first time they’ve worked together. Why did that happen? It’s so easily verifiable even if you don’t happen to remember Heat. Weird.


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