RasmusS’s review published on Letterboxd:
Martin Scorsese, what a filmmaker. Although I don’t think The Irishman (or, I Heard You Paint Houses) is quite perfect, it cements Scorsese as my favorite director. I doubt it is but this could thematically be his final product since this seems to be sort of a culmination what he has been exploring in his previous films. As other have pointed out Irishman is a film that only a director with an extensive career can make. It is a gangster film to some extent but tears off most glorified kills and violence in favor of meticulous study and look back at one’s life and past sins. Sins that feel distant or aren’t even shown because they are too painful and delicate. Shaping a man who is uncertain about his religion, family, friends - his whole life really. This film revolves around talk about hierarchy, politics and strict but tangled life these people live. It ripples humor all around to ratify the ridiculousness of this crumbling house of cards but at the same time it is so incredibly personal and touching. The humor and plotting is merely a pathway into what you could call one's self-worth - what has your life amounted to? The structure of the film is genius. There is like this feeling of ambiguity but not really. You are uncertain what everything means but it cuts between the old, newer and present day incredibly effortlessly to shine light on Sheeran’s subtle change. It is something that until the final moments, (ready for hyperbole?) one of the best moments recent cinema has to offer, you won’t be able to understand which is why subsequent watches are essential. It is a long film that (mostly) by structure keeps you enticed to see how Scorsese sews everything together.
At the end you can see Sheeran’s shift from this cold, political and on the surface emotionless pawn in the game of kings to a fearful and fragile man. Not only does his body change but his emotional shift is drastic. The religious material hits you in the face - it becomes a battle between Sheeran’s actions and consequences. He says he doesn’t feel guilty for what he has done but what about the after effects of those actions. He has become lonely. Everyone has died or abandoned him. What is left of his actions? Are his actions worth anything when he has lost his daughters? No one remembers who Jimmy Hoffa is so why would they remember him? The feeling of being alone is scary. The uncertainty of your own worth is scarier.
Robert De Niro gives one of the best performances of his career. I have always adored the man’s acting style for its subtlety and this is the film where that aspect gets to shine. I really can’t praise it enough but I have a feeling it will go undetected next to Pacino's dramatic and Pesci’s comeback performance. It is again De Niro’s work that feeds into Scorsese’s brilliance. I said before Sheeran felt almost emotionless but that was more of a nod to his position than how De Niro conveys this character - how Sheeran builds bridges and forms affectionate connections but also how he destroy others in the process.
The core of this film are the relationships that grow in Sheeran’s life. Because a lot of this film is talking, the violence comes across as shocking. It remarks the many changes in Sheeran’s relationships with Russell or his daughter Peggy. On the other side is the talk and politics that much of the talking or news revolves around. Like the violence also this sculpts Sheeran’s path. His connection with Hoffa and all these political events form both the backdrop and contrast in Sheeran’s life. Backdrop because his internal turmoil and Hoffa’s prison sentences are related to Kennedy assassination and Watergate scandals. Contrast because politics, on paper, is the thing that separates Hoffa from Russell. The union builds this world around Sheeran (his daughter also connects with him through Hoffa) whereas the violence destroys and leaves cracks in his life (also destroying his relationship with Peggy). He is playing both sides and in the end chooses the one that finally wrecks what is meaningful. Only in the end does this all come together and that is why during those scenes you start to understand how deep this film goes. I can’t even explain it and definitely have to watch this more than once. My favorite of the year so far.