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

The Irishman (2019)

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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 Film Review

Legend (2015)

Image rights belong to: Anton Capital Entertainment, Cross Creek Pictures, StudioCanal, Working Title Films and Universal Pictures

Legend – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton.

Director: Brian Helgeland

Synopsis: An account of the lives of the Kray twins, at the height of their criminal empire in the East End of London in the 1960s.

Review: Ask anyone in England about the Kray twins, and you’re probably going to get a less than positive reaction, and for good reason. It is no secret that both Ronnie and Reggie Kray were nasty pieces of work. So when choosing to make a film about the lives of two violent and dangerous gangsters who were arguably at the top of the criminal underworld, and the celebrity stage in the 1960s. It begs the question, who do you cast as two of the most evil men in twentieth century England? You get the very popular Tom Hardy, of course and get him to double up as both of the Kray brothers in a remarkable performance.

You may think that since one man is doubling up as both brothers that they’re unlikely to share screen time together, well director Brian Helgeland manages to pull off this, and in some considerable style. They don’t just share screen time, oh no. They bicker and squabble too, sometimes with other people and sometimes with each other and the fists come out! It’s Bane VS Max Rockatansky set in 20th century England! It is very clear that these are two men who although they may look alike and share many similar traits, and a last name. They are ultimately two different people and Hardy’s performances show the difference between the two. Reggie the charming ladies man of sorts, with Ronnie being the more dark and dangerous of the two brothers, like a bomb that could go off at any second.

The tale of these two brothers is told through the eyes of the young, innocent Frances (Emily Browning) who falls for Reggie. Her sweet and innocent character is ultimately what draws Reggie to her, before she witnesses the dark and dangerous underworld as she becomes his girlfriend and later wife. It’s through her perspective that we watch as the two brothers rise up through the criminal ranks and see their empire expand into something vast and substantial. Whilst at the same time, the criminal lifestyle ebbs away at Frances and the love she strongly displayed for her husband in the early years, quickly breaks down as their relationship crumbles. Hardy shines as both brothers but it is portrayal of Reggie that definitely seeks to tug at the audiences’ heartstrings as he seeks to try and build a life away from the criminal hive with Frances. It is the crazy actions of Ronnie that drive a firm wedge between Reggie and Frances and causes friction between the two brothers.

Emily Browning also gives a very strong performance as  Frances, although the material she was given is often a bit lacking at times and there was a lot more to be explored with her character, leaving her somewhat underdeveloped. In addition the rest of the principal cast also feel somewhat underutilised, but the focal point of the film is on our leading men.  For a film about two very sinister men, there is a surprising amount of humour involved. The humour works, but it does not hide the sinister nature of the trade of the Krays. Though Reggie tried to be a ladies man and compassionate towards his wife, it is ultimately in vain. The film of the title ultimately rings true, the tale of Ronnie and Reggie Kray is one of legend, a dark and murky legend that has become firmly entrenched in 20th century British history, and one that is not going to go away any time soon.

Although the script does lack in places, and the rest of the cast feel really criminally underdeveloped, Tom Hardy is brilliant and award worthy in two mesmerising leading performances.