Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham
Not quite the masterpiece mooted, but Martin Scorsese’s Netflix-funded gangster saga, which sees the venerable director reunite with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, feels like a fitting summation of the most celebrated strand of his career. Adapted from Frank Sheeran’s memoir ‘I Hear You Paint Houses’ it charts the long-standing relationship between seemingly all-powerful Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who mysteriously disappeared in 1982, and the Mob heavy turned Teamsters official Sheeran (De Niro). It begins in the early 50s with then truck driver Sheeran catching the eye of Pennsylvania crime boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci). After various low-level criminal assignments, Russell selects Frank as right-hand man and bodyguard to the hot-tempered Hoffa (Pacino). A friendship develops with Frank often acting as a middleman between the tempestuous Hoffa and his exasperated mob masters. It’s a hauntingly elegiac and autumnal picture, which feels closer in spirit to Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ than previous Scorsese fare. Tellingly, characters are introduced with accompanying text spelling the date of their deaths and the nature of their demise. Otherwise this feels like a greatest hits compilation, replete with lengthy tracking shots, retro soundtrack, voiceovers and low-life badinage. It’s not perfect: Pacino’s trademark gruff blustering is indulged a little too much and it seems perverse to cast Anna Paquin as Frank’s daughter Peggy and barely give her any lines – although arguably maybe sitting in silent judgement is the point of the most prominent female character. But De Niro, returning to the Scorsese fold after two decades, seems more engaged than he has been in years, even while playing a world-weary and passive character. Pesci is equally impressive, trading in the mad dog persona of yore for a more measured and calculating, but no less scary, demeanour.