Film Review: The Irishman


In a career positively littered with jewels, Martin Scorsese manages to surpass expectations once more. The Irishman is a magnificent gem. 

Frank Sheeran recounts his life as a mob hitman and a labour union official. Frank tells of his relationship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa, as well as some of the most powerful mobsters in the second half of the twentieth century…

Based on Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses, Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zallian have created something special with The Irishman. The film is compelling from start to finish. Running at almost three and a half hours, this is no mean feat. Instead, the film flys by in no time at all, which is testament to Scorsese and Zallian’s storytelling abilities. 

Starting with an ageing Frank Sheeran telling his story directly to viewers, the film tells a story through a second story. A road trip to a wedding becomes a vehicle for Sheeran to look back. From here, the narrative unfolds in a chronological fashion, interspersed with scenes from this road trip. The story is woven in an engrossing fashion. The script is fantastic, with snappy dialogue and captivating narration. The Irishman offers plenty of laughs, yet can change tone so effortlessly. 

Focusing on real events, Scorsese knows when to be restrained and when to be outlandish. Tying events to moments of historical importance, the film works almost to expose an underside of 20th century American history. Scorsese both emphasises the impact of one man, and positions the machine behind as a dominating force. 

Scorsese underlines how Sheeran‘s line of work impacted him, particularly later in life. The director has erroneously been accused on glamorising crime and violence in the past. It is unlikely anyone would make that mistake here. The Irishman is an introspective study, with Scorsese pulling no punches where it counts. 

Violence is sparse in the film, and utilised very effectively. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker cuts away from the most visceral on occasion, and at other times Scorsese leaves viewers no place to hide from the brutality. Scorsese’s visual flair is always present. Particularly pleasing is a reverse tracking shot which goes back forward and moves away at a critical point. Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto create some beautiful shots. The film soundtrack is excellent, and helps to set the different eras very well.

For most Scorsese fans it is genuinely a thrill to see the filmmaker reunited with not only Robert De Niro, but also Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel. Add Al Pacino to the mix, and the result is dynamite. De Niro is wonderful here, and ably assisted by a brilliant Pesci and a fiery Pacino. It is the best performance from De Niro for years, and Pesci has rarely been as strong. Other regular Scorsese contributors Stephen Graham and Bobby Cannavale are an asset in supporting roles.

Any scepticism that the re-teaming of Scorsese and De Niro may be a disappointment can happily be swept aside. The Irishman is a truly stunning accomplishment.

The Irishman closes the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is Hollywood cinema at its finest. Scorsese’s adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoirs is magnificent.

A young Jordan Belfort is keen to establish a career on Wall Street in the 1980s. He becomes wildly successful, even with his unorthodox ways and lifestyle. His financial achievements come at a cost however…

The Wolf of Wall Street is a thoroughly entertaining black comedy that engages throughout its three hour duration. Martin Scorsese illustrated his flair for the darkly comic with 1982’s The King of Comedy, and his latest has some parallels with it.

The Wolf of Wall Street is raucous, outrageous and always compelling. The incidents that occur in the film are often wild, such is the nature of the story. Yet this is part of the reason that the film is so great; the sense of disbelief often generates humour. Scorsese’s film is often laugh out loud funny.

The narration and voiceover works well in The Wolf of Wall Street, thanks to its protagonist. Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter do not present Belfort’s activities in a positive or negative light. They simply present the story in an engaging manner. Despite the humour, there is no endorsement of criminal or immoral action. The audience are left to form their own opinion; The Wolf of Wall Street is thankfully free of moralising.

Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a tour de force performance. DiCaprio is electric as Belfort; his performance is more than worthy of the praise and nominations he has hitherto received. Jonah Hill provides great support as Donnie, and is responsible for a good portion of the humour.

Scorsese’s direction is as impeccable as ever, ably assisted by editor Thelma Schoonmaker. The soundtrack is also strong. The Wolf of Wall Street is marvellously rambunctious film. Highly recommended.

10 Reasons Why Boardwalk Empire is Really a Film

In recent years, television shows have increasingly adopted cinematic tropes. Some of these can be found in current television series, nevertheless Boardwalk Empire is the pinnacle of this trend. Considering the first season of the show, here are ten reasons why Boardwalk Empire should be evaluated as a cinematic production, rather than a televisual one.

1. Martin Scorsese

One of Boardwalk Empire‘s executive producers and director of the pilot episode, the series has Martin Scorsese’s stamp all over it. The director’s preoccupations permeate the show, with themes of crime, morality and Catholic guilt consistently reoccurring. Early cinema also pops up rather frequently, and long time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker even acts as a consultant for the first episode.

2. Cast

The main players in Boardwalk Empire are all more associated with cinema rather than television. Protagonist Nucky is played by Steve Buscemi, while Michael Shannon and Kelly Macdonald are key cast members. Unlike some shows which feature movie stars in cameo roles, film actors are the main characters in the series. Even supporting roles are populated with actors more associated with film, Gretchen Mol as Gillian for example.

3. Production Values

Boardwalk Empire elevates itself above other television shows with its sublime sets, costuming and overall art direction. The attention to detail is fantastic, with music, artifacts and advertisements all given an authentic feel. The series is filmed beautifully, with a cinematic sheen given to the overall look. Depictions of gore look realistic too.

4. Historical Allusions

Given its period setting, it is unsurprising that events or incidents relating to the era pop up in Boardwalk Empire. Thankfully these never appear to be included for tokenistic value. Issues such as the women’s vote and the presence of the Ku Klux Klan are incorporated in the narrative in a naturalistic fashion. Unlike the ‘issue an episode’ format of shows such as Glee, the themes and historical references featured in Boardwalk Empire play a role in the overarching narrative and are often referred back to throughout the series.

5. Unfolding Plots

Plots in Boardwalk Empire are paced in a more deliberated way than many television shows. Narrative strands unfold in a more organic fashion than the often rushed method frequently employed by television. Although each episode features important events, there is not a sense of jumping ahead with a plot only introduced in the last episode. This is particularly pertinent as there is often a gap of weeks or months between when each episode is set.

6. Drama Not Gimmicks

Boardwalk Empire is a drama, though like most other films and shows it features additional elements. Despite the presence of violence and nudity, the series always retains its base in drama. Unlike True Blood which is increasingly becoming notorious for its graphic content (and The Sopranos before with its famed violence), drama remains the focus of Boardwalk Empire‘s appeal.

7. Episode Run Times

Boardwalk Empire distinguishes itself from most other television series through the differing lengths of the episodes. While television shows will often have a longer first or finale episode than the rest of the series, every episode of season one has at least a slightly different running time. The impression given by this is that the story unfolds at its own pace, rather than being constrained by the necessities of time slots and ad breaks.

8. Real Characters

A number of historical figures feature in Boardwalk Empire. Rather than token appearances, these characters are part of the main cast. Characters such as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Arnold Rothstein take on integral roles. Rather than the caricatures they could have degenerated into, they appear authentic and always necessary to the plot.

9. Lack of Cliffhangers

Unlike many television shows, Boardwalk Empire does not end episodes on a cliffhanger. Although the overarching strands are left lingering, there is not the urgency of what directly follows in the next episode. In this way Boardwalk Empire distinguishes itself from shows that rely on teasing audiences in what is to follow next week.

10. Season Conclusion

Season one of Boardwalk Empire can be viewed as a single film in its entirety, albeit a prolonged and slightly episodic one. The season concludes the main plots in a satisfying manner. However, it does not tie up every single loose end, hinting at a sequel in the shape of season two. Like many good films, Boardwalk Empire leaves some questions unanswered, yet feels complete in the journey made during the twelve episodes.

Boardwalk Empire Season One is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Film Review: Shutter Island

Often, Martin Scorsese makes it all better. Every now and again, tired of the incessant remakes, sequels and sub-par star vehicles, one longs for a bit of quality in mainstream Hollywood cinema. It seems that Mr Scorsese has heard our cries, as Shutter Island is a thoroughly enjoyable film, reinstating a degree of quality missing from many other recent films.

Granted, the film not an entirely original affair; it is based on Dennis Lehane novel of the same name. However, Scorsese’s picture is an exceptionally well crafted suspense thriller. Whilst perhaps not being on quite the same level as some of the director’s earlier work, it nonetheless harks back to the Classical Hollywood thriller, popularised by Hitchcock and others.

Shutter Island tells the story of a US marshal and his partner who visit an island inhabited solely by a hospital for the criminally insane. Originally called to investigate the disappearance of a patient, their inquiry uncovers something deeper…

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a compelling performance as the marshal haunted by the death of his wife and the atrocities he witnessed whilst serving during World War II. Shutter Island features many of the Scorsese hallmarks, although this time the persistent theme of psychology and the frailty of sanity is brought right to the forefront.

As ever, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is on point. The production design, particularly of Ward C, is excellent. The editing, cinematography, design, and the jittering score combine wonderfully to generate an atmosphere of trepidation throughout the duration.

Perhaps the one downside is that the ending may be disappointing for some viewers. However, for over two hours Scorsese grips the audience with this immensely absorbing thriller.