“What kind of man makes a call like that…”
Deep down Frank Sheeran, mob hitman, was just one empty room after another in search of a person. As most sociopaths. That’s the gist of what I got from The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese, not only a definitive master of the art of cinema, but apparently a profiling enthusiast. The list of career murderers that hit the screens from his vantage point is inexhaustible.
Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, and scripted by Steven Zaillian, the film is epic, as in it’s long, but that’s not the point. Personally, would not mind watching Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci age in reverse, in weird makeup, for days. I just don’t know why this is a good thing. Maybe the entire story was an endurance test to reach the end scene, the confessional bit, when one figures out that Sheeran (De Niro), a World War II veteran, and go-to assassin of POWs, might have been in shell-shock his entire life, and all the murder and mayhem he’s professionally achieved felt the same to him as if he were making bagel sandwiches.
Except, there is Anna Paquin as Peggy, the highlight of the saga. She does not speak a word until the very end. And although there has been some controversy about this, I can get it. What is there to say? Really.
One of Sheeran’s four daughters, Peggy was always suspicious of his business and overall character, as she was made aware very early on of his disproportionate retaliation tactics. Peggy stopped speaking to Frank when it became clear that he personally extinguished the life of his closest work associate. The only simpatico mafioso she knew – he genuinely liked ice-cream, and had a teamster union day job – Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa.
So Peggy shows her father Frank just how much she disapproves of him almost in monosyllable. This rattles him more than anything that happens to him before or since.
That parental relationship moment, and the bit where, consequently, De Niro as Sheeran gets on the phone and talks uncomfortably with the widow of the friend he just whacked, is worth the entire watching experience.
Otherwise it is a magnificently made film about the boredom of thug life. And it had been a long time coming.