There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think “The Irishman” — the Martin Scorsese-directed, Al Pacino/Robert De Niro/Joe Pesci-starring, mega-mob opera released last week on Netflix — is the finest piece of cinema produced this century, or maybe of all-time.
And then there are people like me: Those who think the movie, weighing in at an obscene 209 minutes, every one of them boring, ill-acted, poorly written and amateurishly directed, with CGI effects so demented, big-mouth De Niro, who is 76, looks 90 rather than the intended blue-eyed 35, is a turkey.
Rarely has a film been so polarizing, drawing a crowd that loves it to pieces, and alienating a vast swath of viewers turned off by the joyless slog through the bowels of movie-making.
I can tell that this flick, now available in homes to a vast audience through the magic of the Internet, is of questionable quality because friends who defend it to the hilt are prone to suggesting that its many detractors — folks who’d rather stick pins in their eyeballs that submit to a second-helping of this cinematic Hindenburg — are not too smart.
One guy friend even contended that it was a “male movie,” implying that we chicks, many of whom enjoyed the cheerful blood-and-guts of “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather” (Parts I and II), are biologically incapable of warming up to a biopic about a dull sociopath, the mafia hitman Frank Sheeran (played by a somnolent De Niro).
Never mind that the real-life Sheeran, who in death can no longer argue his case, appears to have invented the story told in the movie, based on a book written by his lawyer, that he was just following orders when, he claims, he murdered one of his best friends, ex-union boss Jimmy Hoffa (played by an egregiously scenery-chewing Al Pacino.)
Also recounted in the film, without a lick of skepticism, is the claim that John F. Kennedy rode a wave of mob vote-rigging to the presidency, then was ordered assassinated by the very same gangsters.
Reviews have been almost universally slavish, but this headline posted to Screenrant.com seems to deliver a tacit, protest-too-much, warning that the film is a bust: “No, The Irishman Isn’t Boring.”
Since the writer brought it up, let me tell you: It is.
Almost apologetically, blogger Joshua Meyer posted to the website SlashFilm a piece entitled “The Unpopular Opinion: Okay, Let’s Hear from Someone Who Doesn’t Like ‘The Irishman.’”
He wrote that “critics are being soft on this movie, because it’s Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro and no one wants to look bad giving their swan song [to gangland movies] a negative review when the wind is clearly blowing the other way.”
The cast’s three leads also include Pesci, whose quiet interpretation of mob boss Russell Bufalino earned him kudos for abandoning the frenetic schtick he applied in movies such as “Goodfellas.” It’s as if playing it safely is a virtue. Plus, his scenes with the young girl who played Sheeran’s eldest daughter — “want some candy?” — were uncomfortably creepy.
Lately, De Niro has distinguished himself less for his acting chops, and more for delivering a spate of foul-mouthed, unglued rants condemning President Trump, as if we needed to hear the opinion of a washed-up actor on matters of national importance.
But he’s truly done us a service this Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa season. Rather than suffer through the ravings of a crotchety, old uncle holding forth on politics, we all can look forward to warring, tooth and nail, over “The Irishman.” Now, that’s something worth fighting about.
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