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

Silence (2016)

silence
Image is property of Paramount Pictures and IM Global

Silence – Film Review

Cast:  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: In seventeenth century Japan, two Jesuit priests set out on a mission to seek out their mentor, all the while trying to teach their faith, in a country that vehemently opposes Christianity.

Review: Religion is a subject that even to this day remains quite controversial. In certain areas of the world, people who practice other religions are frowned upon, and some even face extreme violence and persecution for their beliefs, with certain events in history demonstrating how people who are of certain faiths received brutal and fatal treatment because of their religion. It is then quite remarkable that a tale set in the seventeenth century, has certain elements that ring true in the 21st century. Therefore for Martin Scorsese, a man born and raised in a Catholic environment, it certainly takes a fair bit of courage to make a film that tackles such difficult subjects and religious persecution, and for that he certainly deserves plaudits.

Adapted from the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō, the story focuses on Fathers Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garrpe (Driver) who travel to Japan seeking to find Father Ferreira (Neeson) who they believed might have renounced their religion, due to the extreme hostilities that Christians faced at that time. Undeterred by the daunting mission facing them, they travel to the country and try to locate their lost mentor, and to teach their religion. Scorsese is a man who is arguably most well known for his gangster flicks, but this is his passion project, nearly 25 years in the making, and he tells the story in brutal and unflinching manner. With a screenplay co-written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks, there is no shying away from the horrific and painful treatment that Christians received for their beliefs, and if they didn’t renounce their religion, it usually would not end well. The film is very dialogue driven, but the writing is of a very high standard, and certainly poses questions that will certainly leave the audience with plenty to ponder as they watch.

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The performances are riveting to watch, particularly from the three main men, but the spotlight focuses primarily on Garfield. and he certainly gives one of the performances of his career. His belief in his faith is unwavering, even in the face of great suffering and pain, and the attempts made by the locals to renounce his religion. After shooting to stardom thanks to his work with Star Wars, Driver is also equally terrific in his work, giving a harrowing performance, and both men could certainly get award nominations for their performances.

The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. It is crystal clear that with each frame of this film, that great care and precision has gone into their creation. Nothing is rushed, as such the slow pace might jar with some, whilst also explaining the film’s 161 minute running time. There are plenty of visual images to get the minds of the audience deep in thought, and while some will almost certainly have viewers numb with the brutality that these Hidden Christians faced. “A picture tells a thousand words” is quite a popular phrase, and in this instance, that certainly rings true. Having spent so long on this story, Scorsese’s passion for the story absolutely comes to the fore, and makes it all the more gripping to watch, so much so that even if you’re not religious,or practise a religion that is not Christianity, you’ll find it difficult not to be moved by some of the events on screen.

Indeed, the title of “Silence” is quite appropriate, given that for the Jesuit priests and all those in Japan at the time who practised Christianity, they had to practise their faith in silence, and despite their suffering, their prayers were met with silence. And there will be moments of silent reflection for the audience once the credits begin to roll, as it’s pretty inescapable that although these are ficitonalised events of the past, they will still carry a significant weight to them given how in different corners of the globe, people of certain religions continue to endure strong hostility, to this day.

Quite a long time in the making, but certainly worth the wait. Scorsese’s passion for the story shines through, and it helps to deliver a tense emotional journey for all, with themes that continue to have great significance to this day

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

wolf of wall street
Image is property of Red Granite Pictures, Appian Way Productions, Sikelia Productions, Emjag Productions, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures

The Wolf of Wall Street – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort who starts work as a trainee stockbroker before going at it alone by starting his own stockbroker company. He soon acquires a vast fortune through various methods and it is not long before the authorities are on his trail

Review: What do you get if you cross one of the best directors of the current generation, with one of the finest actors working today? Simple really, you get this hilariously entertaining, enthralling account of the life of Jordan Belfort. A life that involved involving stockbroking, money laundering, debauchery and raucous behaviour throughout its three hour running time. Scorsese, in one of his funniest films to date, brings the story of Jordan Belfort to life in an uproarious way that will have you entertained from start to finish.

The story of Belfort is a man who begins his profession as a stockbroker, and through a series of twists and turns eventually sets up his own company that continues to grow and grow making millions upon millions of dollars. Money, money, money, is always at the forefront of his thoughts. However not all of this money has been acquired by legal means. The excitement grows as the FBI are soon on the hunt for Belfort to question. Through this three hour tale, Scorsese gives us a little insight into what the life of someone who works on Wall Street may entail.

Belfort is wonderfully portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. He has several monolgues in the film where it almost feels like he’s talking to you as the viewer and he’s taking you along for the ride. Furthermore whenever he has a microphone in his hand, you pay close attention to what he’s saying. There are (hopefully) no aspirations among audience members to follow DiCaprio down the path he’s taken, but you watch with excitement as his journey unfolds. The ambition that comes from this character ensures the audience are on board with his endeavours.

Another strong performance in the film comes from Jonah Hill in probably his best film role to date. His work in Moneyball earned him his first Oscar nomination, and this performance here earns him another nomination.His character adds  another level to the hilarity that is has already been put on screen. He has some golden moments in this film, one scene in particular with him and DiCaprio that should have you in hysterics. From scene one to the final end scene, this film is packed to the brim with hilarious moments.

Plenty of these scenes are filled with hard drug use and outrageous behaviour that may be too much for some but these scenes while they may be crude in nature, are brilliantly shot and wonderfully acted by everyone involved, including a great cameo appearance from Matthew McConaughey. Margot Robbie also gives a great performance as Belfort’s poor wife Naomi. As the film goes on, she has to put up with her husband’s decadent lifestyle and gets increasingly frustrated by him.

Despite the crude behaviour that is packed throughout this film’s run time, it does not condone the shocking behaviour that is seen. There are consequences for this sort of behaviour and the film really hammers that point home. It’s three hour run time is maybe a bit too long but overall with first class performances from DiCaprio and Hill, combined hilarity throughout, The Wolf of Wall Street  was one raucous and side-splitting piece of story telling that definitely adds itself neatly to the collection of the wonderful filmography of Martin Scorsese.

A solid performance by DiCaprio, with a tremendous supporting turn from both Hill and Robbie, with masterful direction as usual from Scorsese.

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