In the picture

December 22, 2019

The Irishman finds Scorsese contemplating morality and mortality; Marriage Story takes an affecting look at divorce.

The Irishman***1/2

Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Tagline: His story changed history

Martin Scorsese brings together an all-star cast in the big-budget Netflix film The Irishman, a three and a half hour long epic crime drama that finds a mafia hitman looking back at his life while recounting his time working for the mob.

Based on Charles Brandt’s nonfiction (albeit disputed) book I Heard You Paint Houses (and titled as such at the beginning), the film combines new technology and old school storytelling to contemplate the aftermath of a life lived amorally.

The story centres on Frank Sheeran (portrayed by Robert De Niro), a thieving truck driver who, after a chance meeting with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), gets involved with the criminal underworld, and then develops a friendship with the powerful labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), who ultimately becomes one of his victims.

It’s a classic tale of crime and betrayal with the underlying assertion that crooked paths invariably lead to emptiness and destructions. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace and gives viewers plenty of time to contemplate the tragic outcome of deception and violence.

To bring its decades-spanning narrative to cinematic life, Scorsese opts to use digital de-aging so that the film’s septuagenarian stars can look decades younger in flashbacks. The visual effects, however, yield mixed results. The players don’t always look the age they’re meant to look. Even when the facial de-aging is passable, the incongruous body movements and postures defy the illusion.

That said, the acting talent of its legendary cast still shines though. Pesci, in particular, is exceptional in a triumphant return to acting. De Niro (who suffers the most because of the de-aging visual effects) still delivers a solid performance, as does the very talented Pacino.

But The Irishman isn’t exactly inclusive cinema. To its detriment, the film remains keenly male centric – Paquin (who plays Sheeran’s daughter) famously speaks all of seven words in the movie. And its slow-paced long running time may also seem daunting to some viewers; while watching it as a miniseries may take away some of the power that a more focused viewing would yield, it does make it easier for busy viewers to process the over 200 minute drama in smaller instalments.

Whichever way you chose to watch it though, The Irishman really is worth a viewing. Not all its elements may be perfect, but the movie definitely makes an impact with its affecting tale, acclaimed cast, and ambitious scope.

Marriage Story***1/2

*ing: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, and Merritt Wever

Directed by Noah Baumbach

The dissolution of a relationship and all its inherent complexities are the subject of Noah Baumbach’s new comedy drama Marriage Story, a raw, touching take on the mechanics and repercussions of divorce.

The crumbling marriage of theatre director Charlie (portrayed by Adam Driver) and his actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) drives this tale of uncoupling that explores just how painful the process can be for everyone involved.

On the surface, the protagonists seem successful and talented, and they both adore their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson). But beneath the surface, their marriage is slowly falling apart. Charlie, a successful auteur, is self-centred and unable to sense his wife’s unhappiness. Nicole, a former teen film actress, is unfulfilled and wants to emerge from her husband’s shadow and assert control.

When work pulls them in different directions – Nicole moves to Los Angeles (as she had wanted to do for a while) to star in a television pilot; Charlie stays in New York to direct a Broadway play – it also marks the end of their union. But what begins as a fairly amicable split starts to become contentious as soon as lawyers enter the picture.

The film captures the logistical and financial issues of divorce as well as the spectrum of human emotions – love, hate, anger, pain, heartache – that both sides deal with in the process. And the powerful acting by the leads ensures that the film delivers an emotional punch. Driver, especially, is phenomenal, and gives a remarkable performance. Johansson, too, is good in her role, as are several supporting actors, including Laura Dern and Ray Liotta who play the ruthless opposing attorneys representing the exes.

The parallels with Baumbach’s own life – the director is divorced from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh with whom he has a son – suggest he may have, at least in part, drawn from his personal experiences, and that may be why the emotional elements come off as authentic. Those who have gone through something similar – either as children of divorce or with their own failed marriage(s) – may find the proceedings more relatable and resonant.

It’s not a tale filled with twists and turns, and its central topic and themes have been explored in films before, but Marriage Story approaches its subject with empathy and delivers some sharp observations through a terrific cast, making the end result heart-breaking and poignant.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

Irishman vs Marriage Story: In the picture