BY DEAN MOSES
The western and crime genre—two cinema favorites that often tend to incorporate overlapping themes of Robin Hood-esque antiheroes who are championed by a down-trodden public—have dominated the silver screen for almost a century. With films such as Scarface, The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Untouchables, and many more conquering the box office thanks, in large part, to the famous faces who stared in them like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. It is almost impossible to envision any-one else playing these suave gangsters aside from this tour de force trio. However, it is 2019 and therefore time for new stars to rise in the movie industry. But wait… the movie industry has other plans.
Thanks to Computer-generated Imagery (CGI) technology, De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci are once again returning to their roots, not just in terms of the crime genre, but also as younger men. I, by all means, believe that actors in the twilight of their career should still be employed in starring roles, although there is something off-putting if not at least odd about placing elderly men in roles designed for actors half their age just because of their name value, a problem only exasperated with the use of special effects. The ethical ramifications of using computer enhancement is going to be a hot topic over the coming years, especially with the recent and rather controversial announcement that James Dean is set to be resurrected and placed back into film through the use of CGI while another actor voices the cultural icon. It is through a similar process the stars of The Irishman have been de-aged so they can play roles in a the true story based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses. Despite this astounding and impressive leap in filmmaking, the concept of this procedure is occasionally greater than its practice. Whether it be due to the human brain sensing that what the eye is seeing isn’t strictly legitimate, (after all, we are evolutionary designed to recognize faces) or if it’s simply the fact the technology is just not up to snuff yet is up for debate. For instance, in spite of De Niro’s smoothed over features, he seems to exhibit a cold, half-dead stare that looks onto the viewers with noticeable emptiness. Other times his gait does not quite match that of the younger man he is supposed to be depicting. Inconsistent de-ageing on hands and other skin surfaces is also a noticeable issue.
Yet, with all that being said, when it works, it works very well and it, thankfully, does nothing to damage the performances—and what performances! Al Pacino steals the show as the charismatic Jimmy Hoffa in one of his best performances ever put to screen. For a man in his eightieth year, his energy is spectacular. He throws punches, slams tables, and yells with an unbridled passion that will at times make you laugh and at others stir somber feelings. De Niro and Pesci are more reserved but complement each other well. The narrative follows De Niro’s Frank Sheeran AKA the Irishman and his gradual climb up the rungs of the crime ladder. This takes place over a number of years, and with a running time of over three hours we feel every year illustrated. All this is expertly directed by the renowned Martin Scorsese.
Although the experimental de-aging process is a little jarring and at times uncomfortable to watch, the acting chops of the three stars saves the day and even elevates the film to artistic levels, with Pacino being the shining star. Netflix took a gamble that few other studios would on a film that will undoubtedly go down in history as a turning point in terms of CGI and to what lengths it will be used in the future, feasibly not everywhere good.
The New York Film Festival held a press screening of the Irishman and a panel on September 28th, which featured Director Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and producers Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Jane Rosenthal, and moderated by Eugene Hernandez, FLC Deputy Director and Co-Publisher of Film Comment, and Steven Zeitchik of The Washington Post.
The comradery between the cast and producers was prevalent as they discussed the years of hard work it took to help push this film into creation. The cast underscored the glamour of CGI, and even Scorsese highlighted that the actors were older men playing younger characters, so it was a bit of a challenge in some scenes to get the movements to fit the age they were portraying.
Scorsese said to Pacino: “Do you remember the scene when you were talking about the Kennedy’s in front of a TV? You’ve got your family there and your wife is saying, ‘Please watch your language,’ and you shout ‘Oh please language, we are going to war with these people.’ And then you get up out of the chair, and that was the first day of shooting and the first time I ever worked with you. And I said, ‘That’s great! It was really good what you did.’ Then [Pacino] says let’s do another take, and he gets up out of the chair and shouts at the TV again. So I said, maybe we’ll do one more and then I think we can move on because we had two cameras going…So it isn’t just about lens and computer imagery, it’s about posture, movement, and the clarity of the eyes. There were people on each element dealing with the actors. Gary came over to me and said, ‘I have to tell you something.[Pacino] is supposed to be 49 in this scene.’ I walk over to Pacino and tell him, when you get out of the chair, you are supposed to be 49. [Pacino] did it again, and he asked what did I think, and I said that’s about 62 you got to get it down to 49. It really makes you aware because you are sculpting this whole thing, and it’s like living models and how it’s being interpreted.”
Photos by Dean Moses