Before becoming our greatest living filmmaker, Martin Scorsese wanted to be a priest. He suffered from childhood asthma and spent a lot of time in the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he was an altar boy. “There was a special feeling in that cathedral and I liked it,” Scorsese said in a 2017 interview with USA Today. “There was a peace of mind, and outside, there was nothing but strife.”
On the surface, most of Scorsese’s films are about the various sins of his characters, displaying a voyeuristic fascination with that strife-filled world outside the cathedral. But the tension in Scorsese’s work comes from reconciling the characters’ actions with the inevitable reckoning that arrives.
This is particularly true for Scorsese’s gangster flicks. Films like “Goodfellas” and “Casino” are classics because the main characters endure violence and tragedy but survive. Scorsese makes clear their survival is also their punishment. Think about Ray Liotta’s dead eyes as he toils in the purgatory of witness protection.
More so than Scorsese’s other films in this genre, “The Irishman” looks at gangsters and criminals in dark terms of mortality. This is a story of an old man’s fear after a life of bad deeds. God’s judgment awaits and that sticks in our gut. It’s a sad story that only truly resonates in the film’s last hour — after an initial two hours and forty minutes. People expecting to get a slick gangster film on Netflix after a heavy Thanksgiving dinner are going to get doused with a metaphorical icy bucket of water.
Do not let this deter you. “The Irishman” is an experience of religious proportions.