I am so glad I got the chance to catch this in an actual theater before it finished its short run and dropped on Netflix. It’s a movie that spans decades starting in what seems like the 1950’s and ending mostly in 1975. It has an excellent cast playing real life mob and mob connected figures like Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). We are introduced to Frank and Russ as they embark on a road trip from Philadelphia to Detroit for a wedding or a “peace mission”. That would be in 1975. They are accompanied in the car by their wives and we are off on a tale told from Frank’s perspective about how he met Russ, his mentor, how he became a trusted hit man to him and other mobsters of the time even though he is not Italian, he is the Irishman.
Through the second half of the movie we get to meet Jimmy Hoffa when Frank is introduced to him. The two become very good friends throughout the years and until Jimmy “disappears”. How he disappeared, I believe, is purely conjecture but more or less what we see is the most likely story. How much did Frank really have to do with it? who knows…All along the journey we also meet a ton of side characters (mostly real life personalities and mobsters), we focus a bit on the Kennedy assassination and the Bay of Pigs failed invasion and we learn a lot about the Teamsters Union.
As you can imagine there is so much here to unpack and go through and at over 3.5 hours Scorsese takes his time. Good for him and I love that he was allowed to do that. There are no shortcuts here and no character is minimized. Even Anna Paquin who plays Frank’s daughter Peggy says very very little but she feels real and seems to communicate so much with her purposeful silence. As the road trip progresses from city to city, cigarette stops and money collections on the way, we slowly realize where this is going. Sure, there is a wedding in Detroit but there is much more there. De Niro plays Frank perfectly. He is a man who you want to like but really, he is a monster. His daughters know that and push him away. We see that happen gradually and from their early ages. It’s like we lived through it with him. The actors all due tremendous jobs and there are too many to mention. Pacino is incredible as the over the top and amazingly stubborn Hoffa and Ray Romano is so good as the mob/union attorney Bill Bufalino.
This is not the high energy fast cool film like GoodFellas and I feel it has a much more subdued portrayal of what it means to be a mobster. While films like Casino and GoodFellas can be criticized as romanticizing the gangster life, this one definitely does not. The “life” will not end well. It leaves you with no family, few friends that you care about or who care about you, and if they do they are probably already dead or in prison. You end up alone, praying to a God with a priest who feels sorry for you and with no one other than your guilt to share a meal with on Christmas.