Movie Review – The Peanut Butter Falcon

Premiering at South by Southwest last year, indie sleeper hit The Peanut Butter Falcon makes its way into Australian cinemas this month.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon centres on Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 22-year-old with Down Syndrome, who lives in a retirement home in North Carolina. An avid fan of wrestling, Zak is known as a ‘flight risk’ to staff. When he finally flees the facility in the dead of night to seek out his wrestling hero the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), it’s up to his carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) to track him down.

After spending his first night on the run sleeping under a tarp on a fishing boat, Zak crosses paths with thief and fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is on the run himself after upsetting two fellow crabbers. Together, the two outsiders head out in the sticks in search of somewhere to hide, and along the way forge a special friendship.

While Nilson and Schwartz’s twee script isn’t going to win any awards for originality, The Peanut Butter Falcon does win you over through sheer charm and sincerity. Zak and Tyler’s escapades in the woods are wholesome AF. They eat watermelons (and wear them as helmets), use bottles as target practice and work on their secret handshake.

Between this and the recent Honey Boy, LaBeouf continues to take his career in new and interesting directions. Johnson has deftly moved on from the Fifty Shades saga with some equally varied choices, this film included. However, it’s Gottsagen who (rightly) shines brightest. His pure onscreen presence pairs beautifully with LaBeouf’s abrasive runaway, until all the rough edges and animosity have melted away between the two.

On paper, the film sounds like it was cooked up using a ‘my first indie film’ starter kit, but by the end of its trim 97-minute run time, the heartfelt ‘friends are the family you choose’ narrative warms the cockles of your heart, even if you cynically think you have seen this kind of movie before (you definitely have). When all is said and done, The Peanut Butter Falcon sells us this idea that we should be out there living life, not sitting around pushing papers and – you know what – it’s hard to argue with that.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is available in Australian cinemas from January 30

Image courtesy of Rialto Distribution

Movie Review – A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick weighs the cost of personal beliefs in a lengthy historical drama.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Terrence Malick‘s A Hidden Life is a long, painful pilgrimage towards sainthood. It tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for Hitler in a war that required him to slaughter innocent civilians. He was a staunch Catholic, but it wasn’t just his faith that guided him; he was a fundamentally good man. He was executed by the state in 1943 and, in 2007, was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

The early scenes of A Hidden Life work hard to establish Franz’s goodness. We are given a tour of his life in a small Upper Austrian village, amidst scenery so breath-taking a blindfolded photographer could point a camera in any direction and would capture the perfect shot. His daily routine consists primarily of harvesting crop, raking hay, feeding livestock, playing with his children and making out with his wife (Valerie Pachner). One day, the drone of military planes echoes overhead. Before long Nazi officers are stomping through the village.

Franz is played by August Diehl, who will spend a great many minutes of the movie in quiet, tortured contemplation, first as a soldier-in-training, then as an outcast in his own village, then in fear of being called upon to fight, then finally as a prisoner for refusing to fight. The movie runs for almost three hours, and in that time Franz’s resolve never falters, not even when death looms and the fate of his family hangs in the balance.

But as I sat watching A Hidden Life, while Franz was being tortured and humiliated in prison, I asked myself if he was being selfish. Would a man condemn his wife to continue living without a husband, and his children to grow up without a father, simply to affirm his beliefs? At what point must a person sacrifice ethics for the sake of others?

The truth is there are no easy answers, and A Hidden Life is not an easy movie. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful I’ve recently seen, with all the scenes in the village striking the right visual and emotional tones. There are no green screens, no CGI backdrops. The vistas are real, and they are truly awesome. But the film does feel long, especially when you stop to consider that not very much happens in it.

And I needed more from Franz. We get a lot from his wife – her fears, her support, her surrender. She’s an open book. Franz, on the other hand, is a sealed clam. How does he really feel about leaving behind the life he knew? How does he feel about death? We hear his voice a lot, as he communicates with his wife and God through voiceover narrations, but they’re all philosophical and lofty declarations. I needed to know how he felt at every step of his journey, because there must’ve been a million thoughts tearing through his mind. A Hidden Life is temperate and visually arresting, but the one character we need to grasp chooses to remain just out of reach.

A Hidden Life is available in Australian cinemas from 30 January 2020

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Movie Review – Seberg

Kristen Stewart shines in Benedict Andrew’s unstable biographical thriller.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I think the real Jean Seberg would’ve deserved better than this. She was a gifted young actor whose later years were marred by controversy and scandal, as the FBI suspected her of funding the radical Black Panther Party. She grew highly paranoid and was found dead in her car in 1979, aged 40, presumed to have taken her own life. Seberg, the new movie based on those tumultuous years, is assured and sympathetic, but it plays too much like a conventional thriller.

According to the plot, Seberg (Kristen Stewart) first met Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) on a flight from France to the United States. Jamal, a cousin to Malcolm X, was a prominent activist in the Black Power movement and way up there on the FBI’s list of suspicious persons. Both Seberg and Jamal were married, but they bonded easily over their shared passion for justice so later thought it’d be a good idea to bond in several other ways.

Her involvement with Jamal flung her squarely into the crosshairs of the FBI, which, under the authoritarian fist of J. Edgar Hoover, was permitted to turn a person’s life upside-down, inside-out, usually with the most illegal practices available.

In Seberg, the FBI is represented by two men, neither of whom I am sure really existed. One is Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn), who is married to the job. The other is Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell), an eager young agent whose sole purpose in the story is to begrudgingly follow Seberg, bug her house, snap unsolicited photographs and then curl up in guilt as he realises his actions have driven the poor girl insane.

Alas, none of the FBI stuff is particularly engrossing, nor does any of it ring true. If Jack is truly a fictional creation by the writers, his presence only muddles the moral complexity of Seberg’s characters and unacceptably exonerates the FBI. I don’t doubt that many agents under Hoover questioned his shady methods, but I do wonder if any of them would have done what Jack does in this movie, especially towards the end in a scene in Paris that is quite implausible.

No matter. The movie is called Seberg, and Kristen Stewart proves once again that Bella Swan was an anomaly. She is a gifted actress, turning in a performance that deserves a more finely tuned movie. Her rendition of Seberg is warm and intelligent, and she always seems to be aware of the power her beauty and sexuality exert on the men around her.

So why do I not feel like I know what the real Jean Seberg was like? Perhaps it’s because director Benedict Andrews relies too heavily on thriller clichés and not enough on human exploration. Seberg’s Wikipedia page describes it as a political thriller, which it is, and it’s a good one. What I want to know is, when does it stop being about the FBI and start being about Jean?

Seberg is available in Australian cinemas from 30 January 2020

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – 1917

As war movies grow and evolve, Sam Mendes delivers one simultaneously intimate and grand, assembled with technical superiority.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

How is a movie like this made? As I sat watching 1917, I started to marvel at the sheer impossibility of it all. The story travels great distances, weaves through trenches and around dozens of extras, glides over open waters and into confined spaces. It hops onto trucks, moves from day into night, involves hundreds more extras and is consistently peppered with gunshots and explosions. All the while the camera watches, mostly unbroken, and we wonder how long it must’ve taken to choreograph and rehearse the damn thing. This is an impressive movie.

It’s a year before the end of World War I. The Germans have curiously retreated, severing English communications and prompting a nearby English division to charge into an ambush. We meet Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) on the other side of No Man’s Land, who have been ordered to reach the division on foot to deliver a desperate ceasefire letter.

The movie, which adopts the structure of a one-shot picture but is cleverly broken up by hidden cuts, is a parable of urgency and determination in the face of self-preservation, drawn up in excellent visual effects and captured in camera movements so enormously intricate I’m convinced equipment had to be digitally removed in post.

The long continuous take is just the method, not the result. Most other one-shot movies would be content to get the camera from A to B in one piece in as few takes as possible. 1917 not only makes it to the end, but delivers some truly breath-taking imagery along the way. The kind photographers with tripods struggle to achieve. Roger Deakins, with his camera in perpetual motion, somehow manages to frame exactly what he wants when he wants it, without compromise. I’ve not witnessed anything quite like it.

1917 is directed by Sam Mendes, whose movies have been difficult to pin down. He doesn’t seem to toy with any particular theme except maybe the loss of innocence, as in American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002) and Revolutionary Road (2008). 1917 is the epitome of lost innocence; the joys of youth flung into the teeth of war.

Yet the strength of 1917 is also its curse. Because the camera refuses to cut, there are long periods where characters do nothing but walk from here to there, as they must. There’s a lot of downtime. The screenplay by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns tries to fill the silence with anecdotes and thin exposition, but it doesn’t change the fact that people do lots and lots of walking while we have to watch like good sports.

It’s not so much a plot as a premise. It’s dialogue that merely services the action. But 1917, like Gravity (2013), is thunderous entertainment because it uses all the crafts of filmmaking in ways we hadn’t imagined, to enhance the simplest of human instincts into gripping drama. We follow Blake and Schofield on their horrendous journey, step by step, gunshot by gunshot, and we are filled with dread and apprehension in the best possible way. This is a movie that transforms itself into an experience.

1917 is available in Australian cinemas from 9 January 2020

Image © Universal Pictures

Movie Review – Cats

Tom Hooper’s queasy visuals and artistic oversight undo one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more charming musicals.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I greatly admire Cats as a musical. I grew up with it. And I respect anyone who’s willing to dance night after night in a skin-tight animal outfit. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I don’t quite know what to make of it. No dramatic presentation of a musical like Cats could ever be considered “normal”. These are cats that look like humans, or rather humans that look like cats, choreographed to leap and twirl and occasionally behave like cats. But this movie is a uniquely unusual experience, not always in a fashion that is pleasant.

The most glaring issue is the CGI, which the movie seems to have bathed in. The result is not so much disappointing as distracting. The trailer for the movie received some hefty popular backlash on YouTube for the creepy digital effects on all the characters’ faces. The movie does nothing to improve matters. In fact, it compounds them, not least because in addition to the creepy felines, the same effects are applied to several mice and a whole contingent of dancing cockroaches. Yes, cockroaches. It doesn’t help that several of them are devoured by Rebel Wilson.

All this might’ve been easier to stomach if the effects had been seamless. Sadly, the CGI is so consistently inconsistent it draws unwanted attention to itself. It’s a movie whose visuals look frail on the surface then threaten to crumble spectacularly upon closer inspection. I suspect, if you go in to Cats without already possessing an affinity for the material, you might be so put off by the artificial appearance and bizarre movements of the cats that you might consider walking out before the first song has had its chance to be sung.

The plot, such as it is, is based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot. A young white cat, Victoria (Francesca Hayward, a principal dancer for the Royal Ballet in her first feature-length film), has been thrown out amongst the trash in a London alley, only to be salvaged by a tribe of “Jellicle” cats all vying to be chosen by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) for a new life, while the sinister Macavity (Idris Elba) schemes to ascend himself. What’s a Jellicle cat? There are songs that explain it, but their choruses are so difficult to discern you’d be better off reading the original poems.

All this adds up to a movie I seem to have not enjoyed very much. I hold some of the older renditions of the musical too close to my heart. This Cats is too digital and visually unsettling to really stack up. Tom Hooper, who committed musical suicide with Les Misérables (2012) by casting an actor who couldn’t sing, does it again by incidentally drawing focus away from the things that matter. Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s score holds up gallantly, and there are pockets of delightful moments that reminded me of the material’s potential. If you can look through the strangeness, you’d have a good time. Unfortunately, the strangeness is stubbornly impenetrable.

Cats is available in Australian cinemas from December 26 2019

Image © Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach’s message is clear – whoever said war is hell has surely never been through a divorce.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

After a long, mostly happy period together, 30-something-year-old couple Charlie (Adam Driver), a successful theatre director, and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), his acting muse, find themselves facing difficulties in their marriage. Nicole sees new career offers outside New York as the right opportunity to file for divorce from Charlie, beginning a long, traumatic battle amidst an attempt to retain a sense of family for the sake of their son.

What is it about deteriorating marriages that makes them so fascinating to watch? It’s likely the sheer drama emitted by the situations and complications that come with falling out of love with someone. But when witnessing such a breakdown – when done well – it can tap into a complex emotional place and stir a hurricane of very intense feelings.

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, While We’re Young) is a man who, for better or worse, truly, deeply understands the trauma of a divorce. He’s already explored his own parents’ separation earlier in his filmography with The Squid and the Whale, and since then he’s had the added heat of his own divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh – from which Marriage Story takes a great deal of inspiration. Pile on the claims of countless breakups of friends all around him (of whom he interviewed, along with lawyers, judges and mediators) and it seems as though Baumbach is a magnet for and an expert on the distressing subject, which Marriage Story brilliantly proves in all its messy, warts-and-all glory.

The film opens with both Charlie and Nicole monologuing everything they love about the other – the endearing quirks, the gestures both grand and tiny, how each one makes up for the other’s shortcomings and the strong bond they hold with their son. Combined with a typically whimsical Randy Newman score, it immediately romanticizes their marriage in the way that most love stories do and fills us with optimism of the magic they share. Or at least did once.

As the fantasy fizzles, it’s revealed we’re in Nicole and Charlie’s couples’ therapy. The love letter to one another is just an activity set by their councillor that both are too tense to actually read aloud. And this is just the tip of their rapidly crumbling iceberg.

Throughout, the audience is made to feel like the child caught in the crossfire of their parent’s separation. We err back and forth between whose side we’re on, face the difficult understanding that a side probably shouldn’t be picked and feel the weight and struggle of searching for a middle ground.

Both characters are deeply flawed. Both show their true colours and at times rear their very ugly heads in heated yelling matches, but it’s astounding to witness the humanity grow in both. By the end, you just want both of them to find something approaching happiness, even if it seems like an impossible outcome. Driver and Johansson deliver career-best turns, and both, particularly Driver, are truly deserving of some serious awards recognition.

Baumbach has delivered perhaps the ultimate movie about divorce and boy does it make us feel all the massive emotions of one. Messy, infuriating, funny, sad and distressing, Marriage Story cuts, very, very deep.

Marriage Story is available on Netflix in Australia from December 6 2019

Image courtesy of Netflix Australia

Movie Review – The Truth

Hirokazu Koreeda’s maiden voyage into non-Japanese territory is elegant and comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

All around her plush and luxurious Parisian apartment are souvenirs from her successful career as an actress. Her name is Fabienne Dangeville, played by Catherine Deneuve who could very well be playing herself. Fabienne has published her autobiography on the verge of playing a supporting character in an upcoming science-fiction film. To congratulate her, her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) and her family have arrived from New York. The Truth, Hirokazu Koreeda‘s first non-Japanese movie, is about Fabienne’s and Lumir’s relationship, and the way human personalities harden or soften over time but never change.

Fabienne is clearly a woman who knows what she wants and gets it, or else she wouldn’t be this famous. Her life is surrounded by servile men. Luc (Alain Libolt) is her long-time personal assistant, and Jacques (Christian Crahay) is her new paramour. She always has an opinion and is never ashamed to express it. It’s not that she doesn’t care; she has simply accepted that to be successful, bridges must be willingly burnt.

That’s where Lumir comes in. She picks up a copy of her mother’s book and is startled to discover the alterations of facts as Fabienne remembers them. There is no acknowledgement of Luc for his years of service, no recognition paid to Sarah, a close family friend whose acting career was derailed by Fabienne’s ravenous hunger for success. This, you can imagine, leads to a great many scenes where mother and daughter quarrel while their partners are ordered to mind their own business.

I was quite surprised to learn that The Truth was also written by Koreeda. The story, the setting, the characters could not be further removed from the work he usually makes, though his theme of family remains strong. What prompted him to venture beyond Japanese shores? Why now? And why France? It stands to reason that maybe Deneuve has been an actress he’s always admired and now that his movies have been recognised globally, it’s an honour to finally work with her.

It’s a delicate performance from Deneuve, which sits comfortably within the cosy walls of her surroundings. Binoche is charged with the more emotional part and has to wrangle feelings of anger and affection while maintaining an air of motherly strength. It’s a real treat to watch the two women in action, sparring with lines that are occasionally funny but always heartfelt.

My only wish is that Koreeda had swung for the fences, as he has countless times before. The Truth is safe, sometimes frustratingly so. It’s disappointing that the science-fiction movie within the movie happens to also be about a fragile relationship between a mother and a daughter, so that as Fabienne acts her scenes, she conveniently develops a deeper understanding of her own shortcomings. If The Truth had been made by a newcomer it’d be hailed as a sparkling debut. But because I know Koreeda has proven time and again that his films can shift into an extra gear, it’s a let-down that this time he cruises in fifth.

The Truth is available in Australian cinemas from December 26 2019

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review – Sorry We Missed You

Ken Loach enters the twilight of his hardworking career with an observant account of a desperate, crumbling family.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

 Once again, Ken Loach brings us a film that observes the hardships of living in a capitalist society. He is the unsung hero of the working class. Sorry We Missed You, about a penniless family in Newcastle, U.K., on the brink of self-destruction, is a fine addition to his collection, but I will be frank – this is a soul-crushing experience. It’s a story in which nothing goes right, and goodness is repaid with arse luck.

The movie opens with Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen) applying for a job at a local delivery centre. The terms are fishy – there is no contract, no clocking in or out, no wage, only a fee, and he is responsible for his own schedule. Anyone would tell Ricky it’s a no-go, but Ricky is desperate and accepts. Elsewhere, his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood) struggles as a carer, tending to seven clients a day, working 14-hour shifts. It’s made worse when she has to sell her car to pay for Ricky’s delivery van deposit.

So, you can already see the wheels turning. Ricky and Abby bend over backwards just to put food on the table while their teenage son Seb (Rhys Stone) fails to realise that by acting out and getting arrested he’s pulling his parents away from their jobs.

Loach’s films are usually relentless in their dissection of decent humanity. Sorry We Missed You breaks down the Turner household into bits and pieces. Both Ricky and Abby are abused by their jobs, but the real wild card is Seb. He is the proverbial spanner thrown into the works. The unhinged, unpredictable troublemaker that threatens to sink the entire family. How did he get this way? He has understanding parents and a loving sister. Why is he unable to articulate his feelings for them? He seems to possess nothing but rage, but the movie gives no explanation for his behaviour. Are all teens this random? I certainly wasn’t.

It’s one thing after another. Ricky’s boss, for instance, is a taskmaster I found hard to believe. He cares only about the numbers and being the country’s best delivery depot, to the complete detriment of his staff (perhaps a nod to Amazon?). It’s undeniably evident that Loach and long-time writing partner Paul Laverty have no love for employers, and choose to make anyone in a position of power as despicable as possible. In I, Daniel Blake (2016), it worked. This time it seems a bit much.

And yet Sorry We Missed You is a good, solid picture. Is it something I’d recommend? Probably not, only because I feel most people want to be entertained or illuminated by the movies. Sorry We Missed You is too relentless to be conventionally entertaining and reflects real life too candidly to be truly illuminating. It’s a film you must want to see. There’s no doubt it is supremely crafted and continues Loach’s uncanny success in casting amateur actors. They bring an authenticity that professionals might have taken for granted. And boy, some of their Geordie accents are so thick you might wish they were subtitled.

Sorry We Missed You is available in Australian cinemas from Boxing Day

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – The Good Liar

With names bigger than the movie’s title, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are charming old folks in a story that doesn’t deserve them.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

You know how when you’re at a bar with silly drunk people and a small argument instantly becomes a fistfight and you go, “Wow, that escalated quickly?” The Good Liar is the movie that created that escalated quickly.

Here is a film that begins as a harmless old-fogey romantic comedy and about halfway through switches in a heartbeat to lurid darkness. It’s half of one movie and half of another. Sometimes that’s okay, as when the second half is meant to supply startling contrast to the first. But The Good Liar is also painfully implausible throughout, so it renders itself completely inert.

Now, the second half of The Good Liar I cannot reveal, because wouldn’t you know it – it’s a plot twist! A grim, inconceivable plot twist. The first half involves Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren meeting each other from an online dating site as Roy and Betty. They fall swiftly in love. That I can believe. But there’s a hook: Ian McKellen is a con man. He and his shady accountant partner (Jim Carter) have been swindling gullible losers into depositing hundreds of thousands into “shared investments” and then emptying the account into their pockets. That, too, I can believe. Sorta.

So, we learn that their next mark is poor old Betty, who is not wealthy but wealthy enough, and has a grandson (Russell Tovey) who suspects Roy right from the off. It doesn’t help that Roy fakes a knee injury so that Betty will invite him to live with her. That’s the first of many things about the story I don’t believe. If I was dating someone with a bad knee and she had to walk up many steps to reach her apartment, I would offer to help her up, not bring her back to my house and turn her into a live-in guest. At least not after two dates. But then I guess I’m not 75. Anyway, Roy and Betty grow close, and then… the movie takes a sharp right.

The problem with The Good Liar lies with Bill Condon, the director. I think the material, based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle, could actually work if it’s handled appropriately. Condon’s mistake is to film the romantic, comedic first half as exactly that – a light-hearted fluffy rom-com, albeit with one too many C words. The second half almost becomes a World War II drama that deals with horrific personal issues entirely at odds with everything that’s come before. It’s as if Something’s Gotta Give suddenly morphed into Irreversible.

It all leads to a con within a con and, if I were to believe it could actually happen, it would require enough preparation and rehearsals to make Live Aid look like an impromptu birthday party. Naturally, McKellen and Mirren are consummate professionals and always remain high above the material. I’d like to say they make the story work, but I suppose that would make me a good liar.

The Good Liar is available in Australian cinemas from 5 December 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Irishman

Martin Scorsese reunites with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for The Irishman, a sprawling mobster epic that spans the 20th century.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

The Irishman has been bubbling away in the background for a little while, with Scorsese seeing it as something of a passion project for years. With a runtime of three-and-a-half hours and a budget of $200 million, the film finally found a home on Netflix, who were more than happy to give the auteur filmmaker full creative control in exchange for awards season clout.

Based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses, the film sees De Niro play Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who falls in with Italian mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his formidable crime family. Frank’s time in the infantry during the war makes him an asset to Russ, who recruits him to carry out hits – or ‘paint houses’ with their blood – and spread the family’s influence in Pennsylvania.

Along the way Frank crosses paths with union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and the two form a friendship that becomes familial, with Hoffa becoming particularly fond of Frank’s daughter, Peggy. However, political forces threaten to divide them, and Frank must choose between his friend and his loyalty to the mob.

Spanning 60 years of Frank’s life, The Irishman employs cutting-edge de-ageing technology to plaster over the cracks and wrinkles that define De Niro, Pesci and Pacino’s faces. We’ve seen this done in the past – most recently, Samuel L. Jackson was de-aged to his Pulp Fiction era in Captain Marvel – but nothing on the same scale as The Irishman. De Niro, who is 76 at the time of writing, has for some scenes been de-aged as far back as his 20s.

To say this isn’t a little jarring at first would be a lie, but after a while you get used to it. The film deftly navigates the uncanny valley that so many other films have found themselves lost in (Rogue One, anyone?) to arrive at an effective endpoint that sees its cast smoothly transition from their youth to their deathbed over the space of just a few hours. There are only one or two moments where the film strays too close to what I’m going to call The Polar Express territory. One can’t help but think it might have been easier and cheaper to just use different actors…

The most noticeable chink in The Irishman’s armour is that its autumnal actors are still just older bodies with younger faces. You can blend the blemishes as much as you like, but De Niro is still going to shuffle around like he’s in his seventies – especially when the scene demands some physicality, such as one altercation outside a grocery. 

However, the visual effects don’t dull or disguise a trifecta of terrific performances either, with Pesci – who came out of retirement at Scorsese’s request – coming off best. His character is very different to that of his Oscar-winning performance in Scorsese’s Goodfellas, with subtle malice in place of unrestrained anger. The supporting cast includes the likes of Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel and Jesse Plemons, but it’s Anna Paquin who steals the show with so few lines that you can probably count them on one hand. 

Thematically, The Irishman feels like the emotional culmination of Scorsese’s career to date. It’s a deep and meaningful reflection on the nature of violence, particularly towards the final hour of the film. What starts out with the same effervescent energy as Goodfellas or Casino soon pivots towards something more mature and poignant, as Frank finds himself alone with his thoughts and regrets. It’s a clever subversion that starts out full of beans before ripping the rug out from underneath the audience and forcing them to take note of the cost.

That said, the film’s exorbitant length is felt. You could say the second act sags a little, but the film doesn’t have much of a structure to speak of. It rolls on and on, winding its way through the years – back and forth from the past to the present – until it arrives at the staggeringly emotional end.

The simple fact that this film – with its bloated runtime and ballooning budget – exists is a feat in itself. Mixing an old school cast with cutting-edge tech, The Irishman is far from perfect – but it shows age is no barrier to ambition for both its stars and its director.

The Irishman is available on Netflix Australia from 27 November 

Image courtesy of Netflix