MONDAY REVIEW: "THE REPORT" ON AMAZON PRIME AND "THE IRISHMAN" ON NETFLIX
Award season is upon us, and the major streaming platforms have started to release their big Oscar hopefuls. Later this week, I'll review Mati Diop's Cannes-winning "Atlantics," Amazon will drop "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" and Netflix will add Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story" to its collection. For now, here's a quick look at two festival hits that are now available to stream online:
1. THE REPORT:
Scott Z. Burns' drama relates the true story of Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones and his team, who spent years sifting through CIA files in order to compile a many-thousand-page report on the use of torture by the US intelligence community after 9/11. It's similar, both structurally and in terms of tone, to the memorable classics of the investigative genre -- stuff like "All the President's Man" and "Spotlight" -- with the addition of flashbacks showing us the actual development of the "enhanced interrogation" program. All in all, the film's very effective, if a bit dry and detail-oriented.
Adam Driver stars as Jones, in a performance that's 90% grim determination with the occasional outburst of righteous anger. He's such a good actor, I found myself kind of wishing that Burns had a bit more interest in Jones, personally, beyond just serving as "the guy putting the report together who's always right." Here's basically there to stand up for the truth and transparency, and to serve as our guide through all the many obstacles that stood in the way of this information coming out to the public. Which is all well and good, though surprising from Burns, who's best known for writing character and personality-driven Steven Soderbergh procedurals like "Contagion" and "The Informant!"
Annette Bening is also solid in a supporting role as California Senator Dianne Feinstein, as is Jon Hamm as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Scott Shepherd as Sen. Mark Udall, and Michael C. Hall, as a scumbag CIA lawyer named Thomas Eastman, whom I think is a composite of multiple real-life scumbags. But again, the focus here is on the compilation of the report itself, what's in it, and why Jones (and Burns) feel it's so important to release publicly. There's an idealism and optimism to this film, which still fundamentally believes in American ideals like the rule of law, which can be a bit hard to access for viewers in 2019. But that's more an indictment of the country than the film.
Title: The Report
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
Running time: 120 minutes
Genre: Political drama
2. THE IRISHMAN:
Martin Scorsese is a Catholic, so it's perhaps not entirely surprising that many of his films -- particularly his crime films and gangster movies -- pick apart and investigate different sins, and their particular consequences. "Goodfellas" is about many things, but chief among them is greed. Henry Hill grows up poor, coveting the wealth and status of the neighborhood thugs and criminals, until he becomes one himself. "Casino" revolves around lust and jealousy, and how Ace Rothstein's feelings of ownership over his casino as well as his need to possess his wife, bring about his downfall. And now we have Scorsese's latest epic masterpiece, the 3.5 hour "The Irishman," a study in the fatal flaw of pride.
"The Irishman" relates the life story of Frank Sheeran, or at least HIS version of his life story. (Many of the details remain highly contentious among mob historians and journalists.) Regardless, with Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro in his best performance in many years) as our narrator, we track his life from the 1940s through his stay at a senior care facility in the early '00s. Sheeran served in WWII, where he discovered that killing didn't bother him, and then returned home to his native Philly, to become a truck driver and mob hitman. His work for Pennsylvania boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) brings him into contact with Teamsters chief Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and close relationships with these two powerful men will come to define his life. Far more so than, say, his love for his growing family.
Throughout his career, Scorsese has taken a lot of heat (undeservedly, in my opinion) for glamourizing organized crime and mob life. It's certainly true that "Goodfellas" is a fun and entertaining movie that's very quotable, but as with most classic crime movies, it's about a rise and fall. We don't just see the good times but watch these characters pay the price for their choices. "The Irishman" dispenses with the "good times" entirely, and plays right from the top as a cautionary tale. Instead of introducing mob figures by their quirky nicknames and personal tics, as he did so memorably in "Goodfellas," Scorsese here identifies everyone with captions noting the violent ways in which they ultimately died. We're confronted immediately, and repeatedly, with the empty, fatalistic nature of this work. No one joins the mob for a few years, makes some cash, and then retires to Tahiti. You do this crummy, thankless, soul-crushing, dangerous, degrading work until you end up in jail or dead.
I could praise "The Irishman" for several thousand more words, but I've got other streaming news to cover. It's very long, and deliberately paced, but it's full to bursting with insight and human drama and a surprising amount of humor and really brilliant performances from a vast ensemble of great actors. Obviously, seeing De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino play off of one another with such thoughtful, nuanced material is a pure delight, but I'd also single out Ray Romano as Russell's brother, and mob attorney, Bill Bufalino; Lucy Gallina and Anna Paquin, who give sensitive and nearly-silent performances as Sheeran's daughter Peggy, at different ages; Stephen Graham as Tony "Pro" Provenzano, a key rival for Hoffa; and "Boardwalk Empire" vet Louis Cancelmi as a real creep named Sally Bugs, who gets to play the film's funniest scene, concerning a wet car seat.
Even if you have to watch it broken up into chunks, you owe it to yourself to give "The Irishman" a shot.
[I know a lot of people have been talking about the use of digital de-aging effects in some scenes to make the actors, especially Pesci and De Niro, appear younger. It was a bit distracting to me at first, mainly because we're so used to seeing what these guys actually look like, but I adjusted within a few minutes. To be honest, I found the fact that they gave De Niro blue eyes more distracting than making him look younger, but I got used to this, too.]
Title: The Irishman
Where to Watch: Netflix
Running time: 209 minutes
Genre: Crime drama