Ever since it came into our cinematic consciousness there has been much talk and a whole lotta anticipation for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the decades-spanning mob crime epic reuniting Scorsese with Goodfellas and Casino stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and giving Al Pacino his surprisingly first-ever opportunity to make a film with the iconic director. All the speculation of whether it would live up to expectations was answered this morning, first at its press screening in New York City, where it is the opening-night attraction of the New York Film Festival, and then on the West Coast with its first Los Angeles screening at Netflix headquarters in Hollywood — which is where I, along with a number of pundits and critics, caught the 3 1/2-hour film at a 10 AM showing.
Due to demand on the left coast Netflix added a second screening in L.A. for tonight. First reviews will break now (8 PM ET) as the movie’s official NYFF premiere will be in progress.
For Netflix, this reported $160 million movie (and it may be more than that), which has groundbreaking CGI de-aging technology that at times made its stars considerably younger, is a roll of the dice, if you can call any Scorsese movie with this kind of cast and pedigree a gamble. The studios that passed apparently felt so, but Netflix, eager to be an Oscar player and draw top-notch filmmakers into its barn, was more than willing to jump in despite the gargantuan costs. It is a pleasure (to paraphrase Pesci’s famously curt Goodfellas Oscar acceptance speech) to report it is all well worth it.
The Irishman, based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 memoir I Heard You Paint Houses, with an exceptional screenplay by Oscar winner Steven Zaillian, is a gripping story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who recounts his supposed relationship as a hitman for the Bufalino crime family — notably Pesci as Russell Bufalino — as well as his close involvement with Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino plays famed Teamsters president Hoffa, and with all apologies to the great Jack Nicholson who played him in 1992’s Hoffa, Pacino will forever own this role from now on. He’s brilliant, as is the whole remarkable cast, and another major star joining a group of leading actors in the Best Supporting Actor race this year. Although his role is big enough to be considered a lead, The Irishman of the title is De Niro, and Netflix obviously would not want them in the same lead category. Pesci will be in the supporting mix too, but mounting competition among others including Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and many more is fierce, just as it is in the Best Actor category.
All that said, The Irishman is a strong Oscar contender that will be hard to resist even for Academy members who think Netflix is the devil incarnate. The film will open for a 27-day theatrical engagement on November 1, before hitting the streaming service , and likely continued exposure in whatever theaters Netflix can drum up to show the film outside of the major chains who will not play streaming product.
With Marriage Story, The Two Popes and Dolemite Is My Name (especially at the Globes) in the running as well, Netflix has such an impressive slate this year that it is conceivable on January 13 when Oscar nominations are announced that it could well be leading the field. Certainly The Irishman, which in addition to being a hell of a crime story and acting showcase (casting director Ellen Lewis would be a cinch to win an Oscar if casting had its own category, which it doesn’t) has an excellent chance to add in a big way to whatever total the streamer gets including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor for De Niro, Supporting Actor for Pacino (possibly Pesci), Thelma Schoonmaker’s Film Editing, Rodrigo Prieto’s Cinematography, Make Up (De Niro and Pesci become very old men) and who knows what else.
Is it possible, with Marriage Story and The Two Popes both winning raves at the earlier fall festivals, that Netflix could snare three, count ’em three Best Picture Oscar nominations, a rare feat that I have previously written could send shivers down the spine of the industry — or at least certain parts of it, including the major exhibition chains which annually do their own Oscar film festival of Best Picture nominees. That could be decimated if they won’t allow Netflix to play in the sandbox as they didn’t last year by excluding Roma, despite its 10 nominations including Best Pic.
This Oscar race, just beginning, is already getting very interesting. I will have a formal video (and print component) review of The Irishman coming Monday and will have more to say then. Meanwhile my colleague in New York, Dade Hayes, will have more reaction to tonight’s NYFF premiere later.