Artscene By Richard Fitzwilliams
This is an amazing gangster film. It covers several decades and tells the story, in flashback, of Mafia hit man Frank Sheeran who is its narrator. It gives an absorbing insight into this murderous patriarchy, concentrating on the period leading up to the disappearance of the leader of the powerful Teamsters Union Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.
Its director Martin Scorsese uses new technology to enable actors to become younger and the experiment works superbly. Technical ingenuity however is only part of the key to its success. It lasts three and a half hours and is absolutely riveting throughout. The editing, music and visuals are an integral part of the mix and the script by Steven Zaillian is absolutely superb. It illustrates the bizarre codes of behaviour of the top Mafia gangsters and the way Sheeran “paints the wall” with the blood of his victims as instructed, leads to disaster when he becomes Hoffa’s trusted bodyguard.
One of the unforgettable images in this film is an underwater shot of the dozens of guns that lie in a river where they have been thrown by Mafia murderers. Scorsese actually introduces some of the gangsters by advertising their untimely ends on screen. The film is dominated by three amazing performances. Joe Pesci has a dynamic presence as Russell Bufalino, the controlling figure in the Mafia, and gives a masterly performance. The contrast when we see him as an elderly and feeble prisoner is extraordinary. Robert De Niro is excellent as Sheeran, a killer without a conscience who follows orders, however diabolical, but who is unable to prevent his estrangement from his family. For him, with his past, old age is a living death. Al Pacino excels as Hoffa, a flamboyant figure who loses his power base in his union when he is imprisoned after which he becomes an unstable egomaniac. The supporting cast is superb though no women have prominent parts.
Ultimately this is a portrait of one of the most perverse “families” which has ever existed, bound together by corruption and a lust for power which poisoned mainstream American politics. It is, controversially, a Netflix film and will be streamed soon after its release. This masterpiece is the result of Scorsese’s lifelong fascination with the perpetrators of crime.