It is now 30 years since Martin Scorsese directed Goodfellas, the searing historic artefact that changed the optics of gangster films forever. A reunion between the director and stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, with the addition of another seminal mob man Al Pacino, inevitably suggested an indulgent reminiscence on what was established, and couldn’t be trumped, in 1990. But The Irishman is invigorating and bold – nostalgic perhaps, but far more urgent than a mere skim through the archives.
The story follows Charles Brandt’s narrative non-fiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, revisiting the alleged ominous deals between driver turned hitman Frank Sheeran and the Bufalino crime family. The working relationship between Frank, De Niro in Scorsese’s film, and Russell Bufalino, played by Pesci, becomes knottier when the safety and relevancy of politician Jimmy Hoffa – Al Pacino, nice guy, friend of the people, threat to the status quo – becomes paramount.
De Niro carries the film with sandpapery charisma, mischievous and wise and heavy-hearted in turn – spectacular like so few still alive can manage. Pesci is quiet and reserved, but his deafening silence carries cut-glass intimidation. Pacino deals in operatic spades of chutzpah, energising a hurricane of a life built on confident performance – there’s no room to tiptoe around what a man wants here. It’s what it is.
Read the full feature, written for the 2020 BAFTA brochure, on issu here (page 54-55) – or above.