The old gang are back together for Martin Scorsese's long-awaited return to the genre that forged his reputation as one of cinema's greatest sons. With Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci all onboard, you'd be forgiven for thinking The Irishman was a film in the mould of Goodfellas. But, on closer inspection, it's so much more.
Telling the life story of Frank Sheeran, a notorious mob hitman who is widely believed to be responsible for the death of the equally nefarious union leader Jimmy Hoffa, it is a tale of mortality as much as it is murder. De Niro is remarkably good in the lead role, turning in what is without doubt his finest performance in years. His character is incredibly complex - a remorseless killer in every sense of the word, but also a man torn apart by his sense of duty to Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and the aforementioned Hoffa (Pacino).
Sheeran's commitment to the old school values which define so many crime families renders him incapable of defying a direct order, but the final throes of the picture provide a fascinating insight into how a life spent 'painting houses' left him in a deeply introspective state of mind.
Indeed, it is the film's final hour which is the most rewarding. Sure, it's great to see Pesci and De Niro revisiting the world of gangsters, assassinations and shady political dealings. But it is far more interesting to see their characters approaching their final days as broken shells of their former selves. With little to show for a life spent in the throes of America's underworld, you wonder if either of them contemplated whether it was all worth it. The film suggests not, but there is enough of an indication to suggest they might have done things differently given another chance.
Without doubt, this is one of Scorsese's most spiritual pieces. Whilst passion project Silence focused heavily on the director's religious predilections, it was a disappointingly heavy-handed affair. The Irishman is a far more subtle and poetic piece, relying on emotional resonance with its audience to express its deeper (and more important) themes. Were I not watching the film's final hour at midnight, The Irishman might have moved me to tears. It is one of the most beautifully expressive films I have watched in some time and one I will certainly be revisiting in the years to come.