December 13, 2019 – This epic (209 minute) saga about a mob hit man (played by Robert De Niro) with a Zelig-like knack for being at crucial points of history in the 20th Century, is much like Martin Scorcese's previous celebrated gangster movies, only there's more of it.
This Netflix streaming-only release (at this time, anyway) took a big, four-hour chunk out of my day, with a half hour break when I started getting some buffering delays about two hours into it. It is a compelling story, however, even if it isn't much of an emotional journey for the main character, hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) an Irishman who rises to a high level in the Italian Mafia, thanks to his friend and mentor, Russell Bufalino (played Joe Pesci).
If you are a fan of this kind of movie, you'll know that De Niro and Pesci were both in previous mob movies, “Casino” and “Goodfellas” and both actors have a lot of experience playing gangsters. This is very familiar ground for them, and for the director, Scorcese, too.
Sheeran meets Bufalino for the first time as a delivery truck driver. Bufalino's brother, Bill (played by Ray Romano) a union lawyer, successfully defends Sheeran from theft charges and then puts him in touch with members of the Mafia. Sheeran starts out small, doing odd jobs for mob bosses, until he murders a man on mob orders. This vaults him into a higher level in the organization.
Sheeran has no apparent emotional problems with murdering people. He is reliable and trustworthy, so he rises in the organization, eventually becoming a mob-appointed right hand man for Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino of “Ocean's Thirteen”). Hoffa and Sheeran become close friends, as do their respective families.
As the story ambles on towards the inevitable fate of Hoffa and others (the film features graphics which indicate the future date, and means of execution of various mobsters) this film touches upon how the Mafia helped John Kennedy's election as president, and how it later had him killed for unkept campaign promises (and Robert Kennedy's war on organized crime). The Bay of Pigs invasion (intended to restore Mafia-controlled casinos in Havana) and the Cuban Missile Crisis are also touched on in the film.
History in the second half of the 20th century seems to revolve around organized crime in this movie, and Frank Sheeran is right in the middle of all of it. As an emotional journey, however, Frank seems to have a muted response to all of his personal tragedies, the death of friends, and estrangement from family members. A somewhat religious man, he tries to reconcile his killings with the fate of his soul, but he lacks remorse, it seems.
As far as all the killings go, it is just a job for Frank, for the most part, although there is one murder that does bother him. Being a mobster means keeping a lot of secrets, including secrets from his own family. It also means that a lot of the people he works with end up murdered, and sometimes he is the one who kills them. He seems to be able to handle that. Frank doesn't really seem to change much from the film's beginning to its end. He goes from killing Germans in WWII, to killing gangsters and others in the 1970s. He talks about it all as an old man, a resident of a nursing home. He is a survivor.
There is probably supposed to be point to this film, but I am not sure what it is. It is not a tragedy, because the characters basically reap what they sow. It is not about a loss of innocence, or a loss of idealism. Those things were never there to begin with. This movie is about people who do horrible things, but they make it all seem mundane and routine. Some of the characters are quirky, but mostly, they are just not that interesting.
This is a well-made movie by a truly great director and the acting is fine, but the story seems kind of pointless. There is a lot of killing, a lot of suffering, and for what? On the other hand, maybe that is the point of it after all. This film rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.