According to Nielsen Media’s ratings service, 17 million people watched ‘at least a few minutes’ of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman on Netflix over its first weekend. Impressive. Rather less impressive, I’m guessing, is the proportion who actually made it to the end of this excruciating ordeal of an embarrassment of a movie. If it was even close to 50 percent, I’d be surprised.
Some critics are saying its Scorsese’s best since Goodfellas. Don’t believe the hype. Though it reunites arguably the all time greatest trio of mob movie actors — Joe Pesci, Robert de Niro and Al Pacino — it’s not the performances you notice, but their age. De Niro is 76, Pacino 79 and Pesci 76. Yet they are playing characters who, for much of the film, are supposed to be half that age.
In theory this shouldn’t be a problem. A massive chunk of the movie’s eye-wateringly vast budget — $200 million, allegedly, making it by far Scorsese’s most expensive movie — went on pioneering ‘de-aging’ CGI technology. Perhaps it’s too late for Netflix to ask for their money back. Seriously, they’ve been sold a pup.
At first, it’s like an annoying noise in your hotel bedroom that’s keeping you awake: you try to shut it out and pretend it’s not happening. ‘Oh great!’ you think. ‘Classic Scorsese tracking shot. Just like in Casino and Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street’, as the camera tracks through a bustling nursing home before settling on the solitary, very elderly chair-bound figure of — yay! — Robert De Niro.
But while de Niro can more than convincingly pull off ‘Ninetysomething geriatric in chair’, he’s rather less persuasive as ‘Young GI at Anzio’, ‘Driver of a freezer truck in the 1950s’ and ‘Angry dad beating up the proprietor of a grocery store who has disrespected his pubescent daughter’. As de Niro creakily puts the boot in, you’re more worried that the exertion is going to give him a heart attack than you are about the fate of his victim.
Later, having joined the Mob as a hitman, de Niro’s character Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheehan, becomes the loyal confidant of Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa, even to the point of sharing hotel bedrooms with him. There’s a scene where the two men are in their pajamas, having some kind of meaningful dialogue which I’m sure was meant to have you thinking ‘This is another of those Heat-style masterclasses’, but which, I’m afraid, just had me going, ‘Ew! Old guys in pajamas. Please, God, don’t let their fly buttons accidentally fall open.’
I hated responding in this way. I’m getting older myself. I want to live in a world where the work keeps rolling in for us wrinklies and we never have to retire. But as Helen Mirren demonstrated so ably in Catherine the Great, there’s nothing dignified or life-affirming about mutton dressing as lamb; well, not until the CGI technology gets a lot, lot better at disguising it, anyway.
What bothers me is that this may be yet another, hideous, politically correct trend that the world of woke luvviedom is seeking to impose on us, whether we like it or not. To teach us not to be racist, we now routinely see black actors inserted anachronistically into period dramas. To force us to celebrate gay/transgender/disability empowerment we’re now told that such parts can no longer be played by straight/cis/able-bodied actors (even though, you might think, that playing characters who aren’t you is kind of the whole point of acting). Now, to ensure that we’re not ageist, we have to sit through three-and-a-half-hour-long Scorsese movies, feigning not to notice that the parade of virile, macho hard-drinking mobsters and their molls look more like refugees from The Walking Dead.