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VALDEZ: Although flawed, 'The Irishman' is another great work from Scorsese

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It was love at first sight.

Months back, when I first saw the trailer for “The Irishman,” it was a dream come true. The legendary trio of director Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci would be back at it again. The group who delivered world all-time great films such as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” would surely be delivering another classic.

This was a special occasion. After all, these guys had not worked together since “Casino” in 1995. As if De Niro and Pesci were not enough, it would be the first time Scorsese directed the man, the myth, the legend himself: Al Pacino. What could go wrong?

A few weeks ago, I was in Queens visiting my friend at St. John's University. He is not the biggest movie guy, but I managed to convince him to go see “The Irishman” at the theater with me after showing him the trailer. 

The film would be coming to Netflix in a few days, but I did not want to wait. After all, I still like seeing movies on the big screen from time to time. Maybe I am a little old-fashioned, but I think it is worth the trip away from the couch once in a while, especially when the filmmaker is such a respected figure such as Scorsese. This was not going to just be any average movie. I had to give it the respect it deserved.

As the film traveled through its three and a half hour runtime, my friend and I fidgeted in our seats a bit. I saw him checking his phone every so often. I felt bad, because I knew he was not too enamored by it. He was not a Scorsese super-fan like me. Mafia movies are not for everyone, especially when they are long enough to be two feature-length films.

As for my reaction, I had mixed feelings. I thought the first two acts dragged on much too long, but the third act was excellent. I loved all the acting, but it was hard for me to get past the pacing issues. My verdict was that I liked it, but I did not love it. I was not blown away. 

My parents picked me up from my friend’s house the day after to drive me back to Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. They asked me my verdict, and I told them what I just told you. My dad, another Scorsese super-fan, seemed disappointed. After all, you expect to hear a phenomenal review from a movie with such highly regarded people.

On the bus back to Rutgers, I thought more and more about Frank Sheeran’s story. It truly is a tragic one. It is the classic tale of someone who made bad decisions, with everyone around him paying the price for it. The more I thought about it, the more it hit my heart. 

A few days later, it was Thanksgiving. I was having dinner with my family back home in Washington, D.C. Naturally, “The Irishman” was a talking point as we devoured our turkey. A family friend talked about how he loved the movie, and I countered with some of my distastes about it. Why did they not cut it down? Why was legendary actor Harvey Keitel barely used? Why did the female characters barely have any dialogue?

He understood my points and then urged me to watch “The Irishman: In Conversation” on Netflix. It is a 20-minute documentary with Scorsese, Pacino, Pesci and De Niro all talking about the film at the dinner table. “It explains how they made the movie the only way they could have done it,” he said.

After watching the conversation, I completely agree. If you have seen the film, I urge you to watch the documentary as well. It gives nice context into why the narrative was told in a slow, methodical structure.

When watching it, one word came to mind: maturity. This was a mature gangster tale. A far cry from Scorsese’s wild, hyper-energized crime stories like “Goodfellas” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Irishman” is not meant to be an entertaining extravaganza. Rather, it wants you to feel the gravity and power of the story through the narration of an elder Sheeran.

With this new perspective, I watched it for a second time with my family. While I still think it has its flaws, I have a new appreciation for the film. If you are at your Rutgers dorm and you glance at “The Irishman” while browsing Netflix, do not be discouraged by the run time. The movie requires patience, but the powerful story provides a satisfying reward. I already cannot wait for Scorsese’s next project.

Joshua Valdez is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and double-minoring in creative writing and cinema studies. His column, “The Power of an Open Mind,” runs on alternate Fridays. 

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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