Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The Irishman (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

The Irishman  – Film Review

Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: An account of the life of Frank Sheeran, charting how he rose through the ranks of the mob, eventually arriving at the top where he meets the charismatic Jimmy Hoffa, and the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance…

Review: There’s no two ways about it, Martin Scorsese is the Godfather of gangster movies. With six of them to his name, the ones he has made rank as some of the very best films of this genre. They sit alongside the many incredible films that he has made throughout his long and illustrious career as a director. Though with his latest gangster epic, one of the most expensive Netflix productions to date, he has incredibly managed to surpass himself, by making one of the best crime/gangster films of the decade.

Spanning multiple decades, the film is told from the perspective of Frank Sheeran (De Niro). It begins with a flashback look at his early life, and how as a young man how he went from a soldier to becoming a hitman for the mob. Eventually, as he rises up the ranks gradually becoming more powerful and gaining more influence in the higher echelons, he meets and becomes close with the charismatic Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Whilst simultaneously exploring how Frank became entwined in the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance.

It should come as no surprise given the stature of the three leading men, and the four Oscars between them, that each and every one of them give powerhouse performances. Marking his ninth collaboration with Scorsese, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in a long time as Frank Sheeran. He’s far from a good guy, yet with an actor of De Niro’s immense charisma, there are sympathetic elements to Sheeran’s character. Though he might have retired from acting in the late 1990s, Scorsese reunites with Joe Pesci, to wonderful effect as crime boss Russell Buffalino. Though, it is Al Pacino’s magnificent, arguably career best turn as Jimmy Hoffa that deserves the most plaudits. In a film with his fellow masters such as De Niro and Pesci, he steals the spotlight from just about every one of them.

With the three leading men, all on outstanding form, there’s an excellent group of supporting characters to give them capable support. Stephen Graham’s mobster underling, who is definitely not afraid to offer a piece of his mind during meetings. Likewise for Ray Romano’s hilarious turn as a Buffalino family lawyer. On the other hand, there are a number of supporting characters who are criminally underutlised. The is best exemplified by Anna Paquin, as one of Sheeran’s daughters, especially as there was scope to explore her character in considerably more detail.

Coming in at just under three and a half hours, there’s extra pressure for a film of that length to hold the audience’s attention and justify that run-time. With his trusted editor Thelma Schoonmaker once again by his side, she ensures that the film is riveting enough to hold the audience’s attention. Though it’s necessary to help set the latter parts of the film, the first act of the film does take its time to get into its stride. Though, once the years have gone by and the endgame gradually comes into view, the thrills never let up once we arrive at the second and, especially the third act. Given that this is the shady underworld of the mob, violence is almost certainly commonplace. However for the purposes of the story, Scorsese deploys a clever technique to let the audience know of the fate that befell some of these characters. Instead he utilises the on-screen violence sporadically, for maximum impact.

Given the large amount of time that’s covered, the passage of time is illustrated through an excellent combination of hair and make up, and the de-aging technology that has been popularised by the likes of the of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though there’s one scene where it looks a bit iffy, it’s well done and effective to tell the ambitious nature of the story. For all those who may write off Netflix and its eligibility for the big prizes during award seasons, one thing is for sure, is that they aren’t afraid to spend the big money on their productions. Furthermore, when you’re bankrolling a high calibre director like Scorsese, you simply can’t put a price when it comes to telling riveting cinema, featuring stories that absolutely deserve to be seen on the largest screen possible.

With three impeccable leading performances at its core, under the masterful vision of the Godfather of the Gangster movie, The Irishman is an ambitious, enthralling, and poignant triumph for a legendary filmmaker still at the top of his game.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Image is property of Sony and Columbia Pictures

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: Set in 1960s Hollywood, amid fears that the industry is leaving him behind, actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Clith Booth (Pitt), try to reignite Dalton’s career, all the while new actors like Sharon Tate (Robbie) are becoming the new faces of the industry…

Review: There are certain directors who, whenever they come out with a new film, it becomes subject of much anticipation and hype in the build up to the film’s release, and Quentin Tarantino’s films definitely fall under that bracket. As he so often does, Tarantino fuses his passion for the craft of film-making, and blends that with his passion for a bygone era of Hollywood, as for his ninth and seemingly penultimate film, takes the viewers on a journey to 1960s Tinseltown.

It’s 1969 and after starring in a hugely popular TV show, actor Rick Dalton’s career has hit the rocks. He has a moment where reality bites hard, and he realises that his days as a leading man are seemingly drawing to a close, as the industry is leaving him by the wayside with other actors on their way to becoming the star that Rick used to be. Determined to stay relevant, alongside his stunt double and great friend Cliff Booth, Rick strives to pick himself up and reinvent his career.

Tarantino scripts of the past have thrived on the dialogue to drive the film forward, and in many cases given that it is superbly written dialogue, it serves the story extremely well. Through the sharp dialogue, it makes the lives of the charismatic characters that Tarantino so often brings to the screen absolutely worth investing in. Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are both on excellent form as Rick and Cliff. Though they might be as A list as you can get in present day Hollywood, both have excellent charisma and they form a solid friendship with one another. It’s not quite a Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield level of camaraderie, but it comes mighty close.

As well as the sharply written dialogue, a QT movie is known for being a touch on the violent side. However, in this instance the violence is dialled back significantly as Tarantino gives us a much more dialogue driven film. One that takes a nuanced, in-depth, fascinating look at the Golden Age of Hollywood, that has the careers of Rick and Cliff front and centre, with this era as the backdrop in all of its glory. Though these men are both fictionalised characters, there’s something about both their performances that makes them feel like they were cut from the same cloth as the stars that dominated the industry at this time. In a cast that is well stacked with considerable talent, the standouts besides DiCaprio and Pitt, are Margaret Qualley’s Manson family member, and a scene stealing performance from a young actor who gives Rick a damn good run for his money.

Though she was a perfect choice to play Sharon Tate, Margot Robbie, frustratingly, does not get nearly enough screen-time as her male lead co-stars. What’s more, in the scarce screen-time she is given, she has frustratingly few lines which feels like a scandalous waste of her talent. Nevertheless, Robbie works wonders with the little material she was given that honours the tragic actress. Given that a Tarantino Picture is usually in the realm of three hours, the first act of the film is a bit of a slow burn that, narratively speaking, is a tad uneven. It takes its time to find its footing and truly hit its stride. The excellent production design and costumes ensures that 1960s Hollywood is captured with a real sense of authenticity. Yet even with that, the near 2 hour 40 minute run time does feel somewhat excessive.

Meshing fact with fiction has produced some uproariously entertaining moments in previous Tarantino flicks, and OUATIH‘s best use of this blend of truth and fantasy, is in the film’s enthralling and nail-biting third act. You may know of the tragic fate that befell Sharon Tate on that fateful August night, but to see how those events would play out in Tarantino’s wacky, but brilliant mind is what you pay to see when you come to watch a flick by Quentin Tarantino. It may not be his strongest film that he has made in a glittering career, but like Tarantino reminiscing/pining for the Golden Age of Hollywood, present day Hollywood may find itself reminiscing if, after his tenth picture, Tarantino does decide to hang up the director’s chair for good.

A passionate love letter to the Hollywood of yesteryear, fused with the typical well written QT dialogue and a superb pair of leading performances from two of the most charismatic actors in the business.