The Case for Best Picture: The Irishman

Written by Barry Murphy

There should be no debate around which film should win best picture at the 2020 Academy Awards. The Irishman is the perfect conclusion to one of Hollywood’s most storied careers and is a film so flawless that the only shots that can seemingly be taken at it are concerning its lengthy run time; which truly says more about some people’s attention spans than the film itself. Scorsese’s gangster epic is as good as it got in 2019.

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro star in The Irishman.

Closer to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America than Scorsese’s own Casino or Goodfellas, The Irishman tells the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a war veteran who, as they say, ‘paints houses’. He returns home from the war with only one marketable skill and takes that skill to one of the only places he can, the Mafia. A multi-generational gangster epic, from here we watch his ascension in the world of underground crime. 

The CGI anti-ageing effects are a romping success. Uncanny at first, one gets accustomed to the fresh faced De Niro quickly and the transitions to real time are seamless. Sure, sometimes the old bodies lag behind the young faces at times but don’t forget that this is told from the point of view of an elderly Sheeran as he recalls his past. Is anything ever as perfect as we remember it? You can’t replicate the past. Scorsese’s bold embrace of this new technology may pave the way for future generations. If he did it, why can’t they?

[Pacino] gives his best performance in years, reigning in the superfluous tendencies that have come to define his recent performances.

Joe Pesci’s performance as the reserved and regal Russel Bufalino is a particular highlight. Usually the flickering, combustible presence in gangster films, he hits notes of subtlety and nuance that we haven’t seen from him before. Don’t be surprised to see him get the nod in the supporting role category. Stephen Graham takes up the mantle of menace as Jimmy Pro, and the on-screen chemistry, or lack thereof, with Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa is electrifying. The latter gives his best performance in years, reigning in the superfluous tendencies that have come to define his recent performances. In short, the ensemble performance is crackling with talent and is perched a cut above the rest of the films nominated for best picture. 

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro star in The Irishman.

We will have another 1917 (we’ve already had a few), we’re getting another Joker and god knows we will have another Ford vs Ferrari. But they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Scorsese was given full creative control and the result is a marvelous, once-in-a-lifetime film that will make you laugh, cry and sweat. His tale of friendship, betrayal, reconciliation and the dehumanizing effects of violence takes as much time as it needs to tell its sprawling, sweeping story to its natural end.

It would only be fitting if he was sent into the sunset of retirement with the highest accolade clutched in his work-weary hands. 

The 92nd Academy Awards will take place this coming Sunday 9th of February.

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