This is the life story of Frank Sheeran (Robert Deniro), a hitman for mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and his possible involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). This is Martin Scorsese showing he’s not out of the mob game just yet.
This is an amazing film. In a lot of ways it’s a very fun film, actually, especially in the first half when it’s treated, stylistically, as if the killings Frank performs are somehow glamorous. That his lifestyle is something that people should be envious of him for having. We get to explore a “day in the life” (though really it’s a “lifetime in a life”) of a mob hitman when organized crime was getting a sort of resurgence in the 70s and 80s and crime skyrocketed.
But Frank’s life is far from glamorous, something shown in the latter half of the movie as we see just what it’s like to be the last gangster as he ends up alone with kids that won’t talk to him and a lifetime of committing murders. The tonal shift is slow coming in this very slow paced film, from one of activity and action to a question of faith as Frank’s focus shifts as his organization literally dies out. But can a man so evil, one who admits to having no feelings for the people he’s killed, be worthy of redemption in the eyes of God? (I’m not religious, by the way, but that is what the movie is about, in the end).
I don’t mind the tonal shift, or even the slow pace, but what I don’t like is two things about this movie and only two. The length, which for the first half I felt they were using every minute and not a second was wasted just to eat up time, but in the second half, after it takes a more somber tone, the film starts dragging its feet, just as Frank does as he’s given orders he doesn’t want to follow and then drags again as Frank doesn’t seem to regret his decision but also doesn’t want to die alone. And that’s the second thing that bugs me, movies shouldn’t keep going after the story has ended. We don’t need to see this part to the end where Frank can do nothing else but die of old age, the last of his kind. It could have ended 20 minutes earlier than it did and it would only add to the film as a whole.
+10: A well-crafted film from beginning to end
-1: drags in the second half
-1: doesn’t know when to end