It used to be that the scariest things in Martin Scorsese's gangland dystopias were the bullet storms and the barroom stompings. Now there's a more formidable menace: time—a commodity out of which all of the characters are running, some of them suddenly.
The Irishman is Scorsese's most extensive examination of this subterranean culture. The movie is three and a half hours long, but it justifies most of that length with its sustained display of the director's still-dazzling gifts—his mastery of pace and camera movement, his intimate attention to actors, and the echoes he sets up with his previous films, either with familiar faces (Scorsese veterans Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel) or memory-prodding visual markers (a glowing nightclub visit, a funny prison food scene). At 76 years old, Scorsese is still operating at the peak of his powers, and still taking chances, too. He has opted to apply expensive digital de-aging technology to his lead actors, most of whom are also in their seventies (Keitel is 80). This could have gone distractingly wrong. But the intent wasn't to turn these men into teenagers; it was to send them back into their forties and fifties when the story required. And I think it works—after a few minutes I forgot about it.
Scorsese's narrative eyes and ears and attitude this time out are provided by Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a ruthless mob hitman whom we see first being taken under the wing of mafia bosses Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and Angelo Bruno (Keitel) and then later lured into the service of corrupt Teamsters chieftain Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) with a single veiled phrase: "I heard you paint houses" (the title of the Charles Brandt book from which the movie is drawn). Frank does indeed paint houses—red, of course—and we see him practicing his lethal specialty in the long-unsolved 1972 execution of gangster Crazy Joe Gallo (Sebastian Maniscalco) at Umberto's Clam House in New York. (Sheeran claimed to be Gallo's sole executioner; other accounts disputed that.)
Sheeran's underworld exploits keep us anchored in time. We see him delivering a shipment of guns to a CIA depot in Florida in preparation for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which was intended to (but didn't) dislodge Fidel Castro from Cuba so the mob could move back in. (We also see a red-headed gun-runner at this camp who would seem to be David Ferrie—an eccentric character played by Pesci in Oliver Stone's JFK.) The movie takes the view that the Bay of Pigs fiasco led directly to the Kennedy assassination in 1963—an event applauded by Jimmy Hoffa, who had become a particular target of Kennedy's attorney general, his brother Bobby. "Bobby Kennedy is just another lawyer now," Hoffa crows after the president's murder.
Pacino is also in top form here, whipping himself up into hot-headed tantrums over miniscule slights, but also settling into sensual enjoyment of his favorite food, the ice cream sundae. Pacino and De Niro have never spent this much time together onscreen, and they're perfectly balanced: Pacino the loud, voluble extrovert, De Niro his coolly undemonstrative opposite. These two men genuinely love one another—Hoffa has set up Sheeran in his own union fiefdom—but Hoffa is running off the rails and making trouble for the mob higher-ups, and Sheeran is worried that he may be called upon to do something about it. He's right to worry.
Hoffa's mysterious disappearance in 1975 was never solved (he was officially declared dead in 1982). The real-life Sheeran claimed to have the inside story, but who knows? (Sheeran died in 2003). Scorsese could have stopped his movie after showing us Sheeran's version of what went down, but he doesn't. Instead, he carefully slows the pace—still maintaining masterful control of the story—and watches his few surviving characters wobble off to their rewards. In the end we see Sheeran, stooped with age, picking out a burial slot in a mausoleum and purchasing his own coffin (from Action Bronson!) for imminent use. Before long, with Sheeran peering out at us through a rest-home door, Scorsese cues up the Five Satins' "In the Still of the Night," that most resonant of doo-wop oldies, with its mournful chorus of "I remember, I remember." And we're left to wonder if Sheeran could have found anything in his homicidal life worth remembering—or if he's being justly tormented by an inability to forget.
(The Irishman is in theaters now. It will start streaming on Netflix on November 27.)
Terminator: Dark Fate
The good news: The new Terminator movie is much better than the last three Terminator movies, if you remember them. Which you may not. It doesn't matter. You do remember the drill—it hasn't changed much in the 35 years since the first Terminator movie. Some all-powerful cyberbot is dispatched from the future to the present to terminate an Earthling who's scheduled to cause problems in that aforementioned future. This murderous entity is quickly followed by another emissary from the same future, a good human who wants to protect the now-endangered Earthling.
So what's new, you ask. Well, the good guys (or whatever) are all women. Linda Hamilton is back, looking all badass and flourishing a great big gun clearly designed to blow holes in Terminators (not that that sort of thing makes any difference to the Terminators at all). And Mackenzie Davis, whom I will watch in anything, plays the good human (well, "augmented" human—she's pretty badass herself). And the target Earthling is a young Mexican woman called Dani (Natalia Reyes), who at first doesn't know what's going on any more than we do.
Let us pause for a moment to take in the news that Skynet—you remember Skynet—is no more. The new bad news from the future is called Legion, and it's responsible for the latest killer cyberbot, which is called Rev-9…by its friends, presumably. Anyway, Rev-9, played by Gabriel Luna, achieves a new level of Terminator inexpressiveness and is anti-interesting in every way. Fortunately, Arnold Schwartzenegger is still on hand. Yes, it seems the original Terminator has settled down in Texas with a human wife (who finds him "very funny," he says) and an adopted child. I think he said he works in the drapery business, but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, Arnold is the best thing in the movie.
Let us pause again to ask: Why are these movies still being made? Why? They all consist of basically the same situation: Terminators chase humans. Humans run, then fight back, then quickly realize there's no effective way to fight back against a Terminator unless the script insists on terminating one. Then they run some more. I'd like to get with this program, but we've been with this program for, again, the last 35 years.
Before signing off, let me note here that James Cameron, creator of the original Terminator, graciously took a break from working on his 37 Avatar sequels to produce this movie, and his presence didn't make a whole lot of difference. Also, the director, Tim Miller, who gave us Deadpool, and is the latest filmmaker to have his name attached to a prospective Neuromancer movie, shows little affinity for tight, cohesive action—it's hard to follow what's going on in some of the bang-boom scenes, and before you know it, it's also hard to care. You'll see what I mean. Or, if you're smart, you won't.