It's not a masterpiece and it’s slightly too long. I took issue with Al Pacino's screen-filling over acting, while Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, who has never been that brilliant, is frightening. He is a form of power that tends to vanish in plain sight, becoming more and more silent, while silencing his counterparts. Real power makes itself invisible. As a complete anti-nostalgic analysis of different types of bodies of power, the film could not be better.
We have four bodies of power: a silent power (Pesci/Bufalino), a power that counts on physical presence & aura (Pacino/Hoffa), a petit bourgeois executive power that tries to do a good job and to protect his family (De Niro/Sheeran), and also a crucial – albeit withdrawn – counter-power, a counter-shot: the perspective of Frank Sheeran’s daughter Peggy (Lucy Gallina/Anna Paquin), realizing the normality of violence. A class struggle that is taking place in the mafia. Frank Sheeran, who was part of the so called “Killer Division" in WWII, continues the killing in the name of the mafia, teaming with the “Teamster International” President Jimmy Hoffa, the employer of his future hangman. It’s a film about the banality of evil, about receiving execution-orders while re-filling and eating cereals.
Scorsese’s characters never change, they go in circles, loops: repeated ice-cream, repeated cereals, repeated killing, repeated cigarette breaks (on the way to the killing). Like U.S. Marshal “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo D Caprio) in Shutter Island, the Irishman re-enacts the WWII-killings physically. Habitus is a lazy shifter. De-Aging technology is the curse of repetition: every face looks like Silvio Berlusconi, while the tired body repeats what has been (done) and will have been (done). At the end, there is no shame, no regret, but only fear of death: Please leave the door open, Ma, just a crack, as always. My paradise is the audience. I scream, you scream, we all scream, for ice cream. Oh, and cereals. I love Scorsese’s “cerealism”, so full of details. Of course: nothing new, but including some crucial differentiations and shadings. The scene in which De Niro calls Hoffa's wife to tell her about Hoffa's assassination is a little diamond of “experimental stutter poetry”.
After working through everything in such a profound and sober way, Scorsese should be through with gangsterism now, and make a little comedy next. I can't think of a director who so consequently has dealt with toxic masculinity like Scorsese. Maybe only John Cassavetes, but they have a lot in common (as is well known).
Text: Matthias Wittmann
First published: December 03, 2019