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LFF REVIEW – THE IRISHMAN (2019)

LFF REVIEW – THE IRISHMAN (2019)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Stephen Zaillian – based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Gaston Pavlovich, Randall Emmett, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gerald Chamales, Irwin Winkler

Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannevale, Stephen Graham, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Ray Romano, Stephanie Kurtzuba and many more.

Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto

Distribution: Netflix

******MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ******



“I heard you paint houses…”

As well as watching new films that have yet to be released, one of the pleasures of film festivals can be when the filmmakers, writers, crew and actors themselves attend and introduce their work. Having said that, I’m not usually one for big and lengthy introductions and back-slapping celebration. I’m also not one for star-gazing and celebrity-spotting hysteria. They are just human beings; let them get about their business in peace.

But, when the cinematic geniuses that are: Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel took to the stage for the premiere of THE IRISHMAN (2019), even I was star struck! Add the brilliant actors Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin and Jack Huston to the mix and I can confirm I was in the presence of all-round film greatness.



Scorsese is the best genre filmmaker still living today. But what of THE IRISHMAN (2019)? Is it yet another cinematic masterpiece to add to an incredible list of classics that Scorsese has directed? On first watch I would say both yes and no. I sit on a fence because the film is SO long, detailed and intense, I need another sitting to really nail an absolute opinion. It’s very, very good – BUT is it a great? I remember first watching Goodfellas (1990) and feeling dazed by the end of it. It is now one of my favourite films of all time.

First impressions are that, once again, Scorsese has delivered yet another impeccable film in the gangster movie genre. Film is a collaborative endeavour though and he has surrounded himself with an army of major talents in the production and acting departments. Robert De Niro, who himself, optioned the book on which the film is based, takes the lead as Frank Sheeran. In support are the aforementioned Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin, Jack Huston and the out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. All work from a superlative screenplay adaptation from uber-writer Steven Zaillian



The story is structured, in many ways, like another gangster classic, Once Upon a Time in America (1984). An elderly character looks back on key aspects on their life; the highs, the lows, the deals, the crimes, the relationships and the bloody carnage. Frank Sheeran, as delivered by De Niro and Scorsese, is another complex presentation of masculinity. He was a trained soldier who did his duty in World War II against the Nazis. Then, on return to America, he found himself driving trucks. With a family to support he finds he cannot turn down the chance to “paint houses” and carry out important work for the mob family run by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). I must say that Pesci is a revelation as the quiet shot caller, in the shadows, giving orders out of the spotlight. His mob boss is the total opposite from the psychopaths he’s played before.

Talking of great performances, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa steals the whole film. It is incredible to think this is the first Scorsese film he has been in. It was definitely worth the wait. De Niro himself is also impressive. His role as narrator and story conduit guides us through many exhilarating scenes involving gangland deals, explosive action and violent hits. Moreover, we are also compellingly embroiled in Hoffa’s Teamster Union business conflicts, as well as, some of the most iconic historical moments from U.S. politics and history.



Scorsese’s approach to style is less frenetic when compared to his other gangster films or the rapid velocity of say, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). There are fireworks and gunfights of course, plus explosive arguments between the angry and powerful men which inhabited this era. The heated debates between Hoffa (Pacino) and Tony Provenzano (Stephen Graham) are especially memorable. Plus, I liked that Hoffa’s character had very specific demands in regard to time-keeping and punctuality. It’s beautifully filmed but the pace is not as say, rock and roll, as his other films. In one long tense sequence toward the end of the film, Scorsese uses silence rather than trademark rock music to enhance the visuals.

Overall, themes of death, murder, loyalty, friendship, politics and regret dominate the story narrative. From the nursing home where Frank Sheeran begins his epic tale, to the multitude of hits and shootouts we experience, the Grim Reaper follows these characters like a constant shadow. I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel about Frank Sheeran by the end. He is a complex character who, as a trained killer, is difficult to empathise with. But his, the bosses and Hoffa’s stories are compelling nonetheless. However, the last part of the film raises a lot of emotionally painful questions with equally difficult answers.

Lastly, certain things about the film, such as the “de-aging” CGI and lengthy running time, detracted from my initial enjoyment. However, Netflix have an absolute monster of a gangster film here, with Scorsese once again delivering a very special cinematic offering. The irony is that it will only have a limited theatre release. THE IRISHMAN (2019), therefore, deserves to be painted and seen on the biggest screen you can find.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THE DEPARTED (2006)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THE DEPARTED (2006)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Produced by: Brad Pitt, Brad Grey, Graham King

Screenplay: William Monahan

Based on: Infernal Affairs (2002) by Alan Mak and Felix Chong

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin etc.

Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**



“In my day you had two choices – be a criminal or a cop! When you’ve got a gun pointed at you – what’s the difference?” Frank Costello


Oscar-winning gangster film, The Departed (2006), is a vicious, double-crossing, paranoiac remake of the equally brilliant thriller, Infernal Affairs (2002). With a cast that reeks of testosterone and star quality, the incendiary William Monahan script is ferociously directed by filmmaking genius, Martin Scorsese. The legendary director and his production team, plus the terrific ensemble cast including Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Leonardo DiCaprio, lift this story above the run-of-the-mill cops and robbers genre movie.

The Departed (2006) moves at a heady pace from the start, establishing Sullivan (Damon) and Costigan (DiCaprio) as”Staties” in the Massachusetts force. They both have deep secrets; both go deep undercover unknowingly trying to catch the other. Sullivan is a criminal masquerading as a brilliant cop in order to further gangland boss, Costello’s (Nicholson) power games. The edgy, streetwise Costigan, on the other hand, joins Costello’s gang in order to bring him down from the inside.



The film is shot and edited, as expected, with immaculate precision; crammed with unrelenting and bone-crushing thrills and violence. Thematically, it’s powerful too. Throughout, honesty and truth are obliterated by lies and death. Costigan and Sullivan are no more than pawns at the hands of a corrupt system that lets people down from a great height. This is literally the case where Martin Sheen’s Captain Queenan is concerned. His death is probably the most brutal demise of all. At times, I must admit, my head was spinning because of the twisting plot as Sullivan, in a Kafkaesque turn, ends up chasing himself as part of a serious crime investigation.

The screenplay by William Monahan is a ballsy joy, full of despicable protagonists and biting dialogue. While many of the characters are difficult to like, the plot. thrusting soundtrack, incredible performances and narrative suspense really get the heart racing. Nicholson and Wahlberg take special glee in spouting their offensive dialogue. DiCaprio too is brilliant as the paranoid cop, dragged into the mix through some screwy sense of righteousness. Lastly, Matt Damon’s portrayal of Sullivan is particularly astute, as he plays against that all-American good guy he is often cast as.



Amidst the cat-and-mouse shenanigans, merciless tragedy pervades throughout. Virtually everyone is a rat or cheating on someone as the film deconstructs the notion of loyalty. Consequently, most scenes blur the lines between good and bad, as characters attempt to out-wit and out-kill one other. By the end there is no good or bad in the traditional sense, just a bunch of wasted lives in an ultimately nihilistic pursuit of money and power. The characters exist in a rodent-infested Boston setting, distorting the distinction between truth and lies. Is there a difference? The Departed (2006), doesn’t discriminate; and there lies the truth.


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6: ROBERT DENIRO

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6:  ROBERT DENIRO

“If you don’t know Robert DeNiro – he used to be an actor.” Doug Stanhope

In a recent stand-up special Beer Hall Putsch drunken, irreverent funny man Doug Stanhope does an extended routine about Jake La Motta. During the hilarious piece he refers to Raging Bull and more specifically Robert DeNiro. As the above quote suggests DeNiro’s career in the last few years has been more akin to that of a jobbing journeyman with the occasional flash of former genius thrown in.

With forgettable roles in Grudge Match (2013), Killer Elite (2011), Showtime (2002) and many more, his C.V. reads like something Steven Seagal would be hard-pushed to be proud of. He has, it seems recently, aside from a few David O. Russell films, been picking acting roles based on scheduling and a pay-cheque rather than their artistic merits. But hey who am I to worry about a man making a few quid; we all have to pay the rent!

Yet, from a craft perspective it is worth remembering DeNiro appeared in films by some of the great directors such as: Scorcese, Bertolucci, DePalma, Mann, Tarantino and Coppola. At one stage he was the greatest ever living actor and here are SIX roles to remind us of that. It was a tough choice but these are my FAVOURITE performances of, perhaps THE finest actor of a generation.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

MEAN STREETS (1973)

Harvey Keitel is the lead character, Charlie, in this classic-early-Scorcese-urban-street-epic, but DeNiro steals every scene as the ducker-and-diver Johnny Boy. It’s a funny and violent performance containing that trademark grin, verbal dexterity and cool intensity which would become hallmarks of the young Italian’s subsequent performances. His Johnny Boy is flighty and unreliable compared to Keitel’s solid gangster-wannabe and their scenes together are a particular joy as Johnny Boy drives Charlie mad with his irresponsible nature.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Isolation and slow psychosis have never been so compelling in DeNiro’s portrayal of lonely anti-hero Travis Bickle. Schrader, Scorcese and DeNiro were young, edgy artists who delivered a character study which found Vietnam veteran, Bickle, trying to stay sane on the bleak, venal streets of New York. DeNiro bleeds desperation and desire for love and hope. Bickle so desperately tries to fit in with society and do right by people but he’s just too wired to achieve this socially. However, via mania and violence he finds redemption and the acknowledgement of the humanity he so desperately craves.

RAGING BULL (1980)

In terms of marrying both a physical and psychologically formidable performance then THIS is probably DeNiro’s finest role. Obviously he’s famous for putting on a shedload of weight for prize-fighting role of Jake La Motta, however, it’s not a gimmick to sell a film. No, the weight gain is part of the character’s arc as he moves from prime physical masculinity and deteriorates to a fat, useless mess of a man who has pushed all his loved ones away due to mounting paranoia and self-loathing. DeNiro designs a character who hates himself and others and whose ability to suck up punishment and pain is a boon to his boxing ability but detrimental to his sanity. In this performance DeNiro proves there is most certainly method in the madness; a stunning film for which the Italian deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar!

KING OF COMEDY (1983)

In this stunning, dark comedy of embarrassment DeNiro is the deluded stand-up comedian who is SO desperate to get a break he kidnaps a leading chat show host portrayed by the wonderfully jaded Jerry Lewis. DeNiro is brilliant at all forms of madness whether it be: psychos, paranoiacs or the obsessively maladjusted such as hapless Pupkin. I can identify with the character though as he is just so desperate to gain fame his persistence, if not his methods, are actually something to be admired. Not known for his comic roles generally, DeNiro is fantastically funny with his skippy walk, bad dress sense, ticks, delivery and imaginary conversations with the celebrities he so badly longs to work aside. You know what too: his stand-up comedy isn’t actually that bad either. Overall, stalking and obsession have never been so funny or painful.

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)

What! No Godfather II! No Deerhunter (1978)! No Heat (1995)! And no Casino (1995). Not trying to be contrary but I love this film. It is a rollicking road movie and concerns ulcerated bail-bondsmen, Jack Walsh (DeNiro), who must take a fastidious accountant (Grodin) on a “midnight run” to ensure he testifies against a violent gang boss (Dennis Farina). Obviously, as this is a buddy movie the two “opposite” characters bicker and fight over the course of the story but eventually settle their differences and find a common bond. The pace never lets up as the two “rivals” use every form of transport possible to get across country and it was great to see DeNiro in a less serious role cutting loose with a witty and zinging script.  DeNiro brings a world weary pain and cynical humour to a great genre character film.

GOODFELLAS (1990)

As far back as I can remember this has always been my favourite gangster film. Scorcese, Pileggi, Pesci, Liotta and DeNiro were all on fire here in this epic ensemble character story focussing on the rags-to-riches-to-rags-again-narrative of mobster Henry Hill. Yes, Liotta is the lead and Pesci won the Oscar but DeNiro steals pretty much all his scenes as Jimmy “The Gent” Conway. His characterisation is of a charming man who is in fact a bloodthirsty yet charismatic career criminal. DeNiro’s arc shows a man graduating from lorry-jacks to masterminding one of the biggest robberies ever in American history before descending into paranoia and an aging gangster always looking over his shoulder.

DeNiro would give other commanding or at least interesting performances later in his career, for example: Cape Fear (1991), Casino (1995), Heat (1995), Everybody’s Fine (2009), Jackie Brown (1997) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) but his CV since Goodfellas is, if I’m honest, very patchy. So let us not forget that he has provided some of the most memorable celluloid performances ever. Yes! I’m talking to you!