This is the story of a mob hit man (Robert De Niro) and his relationships with an elderly crime boss (Joe Pesci) and a charismatic union leader (Al Pacino).
Martin Scorsese is on comfortable territory in this narration-heavy crime drama, relishing the violence, macho camaraderie and creative swearing of gangster life once more. This helps to explain the film’s excesses, most notably its three and a half hour running time, but also its cast of stalwarts, many of whom give their best performances in years.
It’s brilliant to see so many greats at the top of their game again, in a work of true quality. Joe Pesci gives perhaps his most nuanced performance ever, resembling his director in his aged form, and Scorsese’s technical mastery is so assured it goes without saying. Like some of his other work, its focus on amoral gangsters means it doesn’t really succeed on an emotional level, and it only becomes truly involving in the second half. But its humour sets it out from the likes of Casino or Goodfellas; a sideways look at the absurdity of gangster life.
While it may be a fairly typical Scorsese story, the 76-year-old director has never shied away from embracing new technology. Much has been said of the de-ageing wizardry that sent the budget skyrocketing, but the subtlety of the effects, rarely venturing younger than middle age, means they avoid becoming a distraction. But it takes more than a CGI face to make an actor convincing as someone several decades younger, and septuagenarians De Niro and Pacino both succeed in bringing youthful energy to their roles.
Overall this is a great treat for fans of classic Scorsese, Pacino, De Niro and Pesci, and a fine addition to every one of their canons, even if it doesn’t have the depth or resonance to enter into the cinematic pantheon alongside their earlier work.