Martin Scorsese is one of the finest film makers working today, and in some scenes of this film, you can actually see why. Many of the interactions between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (as Jimmy Hoffa and his Irish bodyguard) are fun to watch. Joe Pesci (whom Scorsese apparently coaxed out of retirement to be in this movie) gives an uncharacteristically restrained performance as an aging mobster who sees the world exactly as it is, and is none too happy about it – it may be the finest performance of his career. There are stellar performances in smaller roles – Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano.
But the movie, as a whole, is a narrative mess. With a running time of 3 1/2 hours, it feels at least an hour too long. I understand the story Scorsese wants to tell is a complex one. But how many scenes telling us that mobsters are, you know, really stupid, do we need? This is what happens when you give a director total creative control – the movie definitely needed someone who wasn’t as much in love with the subject as the director was.
Robert De Niro plays the title character over a period of some 40 years, from his mid-30s to his mid-70s. Rather than cast a younger actor for the older parts of the movie, Scorsese used “de-aging” CG, essentially grafting the face of a 30-something man on a 70-something body. I don’t think it worked that well – few of us not named Fred Astaire move as fluidly in our 70s as we did 40 years previously. The effect is oddly disturbing, like watching a badly dubbed movie, or an animatronic version of Trump as Rocky. Scorsese also used the technology to de-age Pacino and Pesci, but the results there were not as jarring – maybe because neither character had to move too much, and Pesci has always had an old man’s face.
The movie purports to tell the real story of what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, although it is probably best approached as fiction. An interesting commentary on the credibility of the story comes from an unusual source – Jack Goldsmith, former assistant US Attorney General and current Harvard Law Professor. As it turns out, Charles “Chuckie” O’Brien, a long-time Hoffa associate, was Goldsmith’s stepfather. O’Brien was extensively investigated after Hoffa’s disappearance, as were most others close to Hoffa, but eventually the FBI came t believe he had nothing to do with Hoffa’s death. In the movie, he drives the getaway car.
If you like gangster films, you’ll probably like this one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.