Reviews & More: Flawless

A still from "Ford v. Ferrari"

I was not really looking forward to three-and-a-half hours of yet another movie about gangsters from Martin Scorsese, brilliant and respected filmmaker though he certainly is. But I knew it needed to be reviewed, and so I did… and am I glad! “The Irishman” can take its place as a cinema classic from a true master at the peak of his gifts. It is one man’s story, covering the last half of the 20th century and the recreation of those years is flawless—cars, wardrobe, music, billboards, hairstyles—it’s all there exactly as it was. I did have some trouble in the beginning with accepting the casting of two acting icons, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, as non-Italians: The “Irishman” of the title, an enforcer for the mob in New York, is played by De Niro, and it’s the pivotal role; union boss Jimmy Hoffa was German and Irish and from Chicago, not New York, so Pacino is nothing like him. However, they are both so riveting in their roles as boss and henchman that I soon forgot about casting and got completely caught up in the story and characters. Script (Steven Zaillian), camerawork, editing, production, flawless directing and acting (huge kudos to Joe Pesci, especially), and only a little too long, “The Irishman” is a violent yet poignant film about a man caught up in the only world he has ever known and  the friendships and betrayals that went along with it. The final shot, of De Niro, old and alone, is a heart-stopper.

I feel lucky to have seen two great films in one week because I absolutely loved “Ford v. Ferrari”—loved it! An old-fashioned story of challenge and victory made with amazing modern technology that allows us to not just watch racecars as they do their thing, but to be in the car with them, turning the corners, shifting gears, experiencing all the heart-stopping tension and adrenaline high afforded by the sport. It’s a great (true) story that tells of the time in the 1960s when Ford Motors decided to challenge Ferrari on the racetrack at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and all the hassles and roadblocks—bureaucracy vs. individual, temperament and doubt—along the way. In the lead roles are two perfectly cast actors at the top of their game: Matt Damon plays Texas racing legend Carroll Shelby who had to retire early due to a heart condition and who is assigned the job of designing Ford’s first racecar. Christian Bale is Ken Miles, a short-tempered, cantankerous, brilliant driver. Tracy Letts’s portrayal of Henry Ford II is so very good—this is a man whom you do not cross, no matter what; Shelby and Miles take him on and there is no doubt who to root for. Kudos to director James Mangold, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael and everyone else involved in this thoroughly enjoyable movie.  

Now streaming on Netflix is “Mike Birbiglia: The New One.” If you haven’t seen the play it’s based on, do yourself a favor and settle in for an hour-and-a-half of oddball, cynical, hysterically funny and outrageous humor from Birbiglia’s distorted mind. What’s it about? How he doesn’t want children, doesn’t even like children, has a host of physical problems that makes his genetic make-up one that he is unwilling to pass on, not to mention the state of the world and how we’ve destroyed the planet and probably won’t be around too much longer. Funny? Not so you’d notice, right?  In Birbiglia’s world, yes, yes, and yes. Trust me. Please. 

And lastly, I have a MEA CULPA: In my review of “Watchmen” (Nov. 21), I incorrectly identified a character as being portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. The role was played by Louis Gossett, Jr. Thank you to reader Phyllis Mason for pointing this out.