Stop Complaining That ‘The Irishman’ Is Too Long
One day in the near future, we will come to regret what an unregulated Internet has done to culture.
While making it exponentially easier to consume movies, music, TV shows and racist rants, the Internet has hammered away at our attention span to the point everything needs to come in small portions. We now require instant gratification in all things at all times, which is why Netflix is currently testing a tool that will allow you to watch something 1.5 times faster than normal. That’s right. If you find a movie or TV show boring, just make it go faster!
I am not immune to these temptations.
To a greater extent than I am comfortable, I am consuming culture joylessly. I want to experience it without immersing myself in it. Partly because I know it’s going to be bad and not worth it. And partly because I’m so “busy”.
Martin Scorsese's new film The Irishman challenges all of this. A heavily disputed account of who was behind the disappearance of the American union leader Jimmy Hoffa, the story follows Frank Sheeran's journey from truck driver to hit man. It is mainstream entertainment done by an American cinematic master.
It also unites Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel in a Scorsese movie. In a career full of serious highs, this is an event. Even if you think all these guys are past their prime and this movie should have been made 20 years ago, it's still a big deal.
And it's three and a half hours long. And that makes people mad -- in a way they weren't when Avengers: Endgame came in at three hours long.
Martin Scorsese is serious. He doesn't like those Marvel movies. He loves film. Cinema. And he doesn't want you watching his stuff on your phone.
But The Irishman is also on Netflix, one of the Internet companies winning the fight for our ever-dwindling attention. The streaming service threw a bunch of money at Scorsese and let him do whatever he wanted. And if you let a filmmaker do whatever they want, they’re going to make a long movie. They don’t want to cut anything out. It’s their movie!
But what we're left with is the feeling that we have just watched exactly what a living legend wanted us to watch. That is a special experience that's worth the investment.
Yes, three and a half hours is way too long. It's a big chunk of the day. I don't recommend watching it when you're tired.
But I wanted to experience it how Scorsese wanted me to experience it. I spend most of my time consuming culture so that it fits into my life. I could make an exception for this guy and give him my undivided attention.
And he rewarded me for it. The movie is really entertaining. It has everything everyone enjoys about his most popular movies -- the humour, the violence, the 50s music, the inevitable tragedy that befalls unfettered masculinity.
Like any classic Scorsese movie, it’s full of unforgettable lines that generally involve murdering people...
“I hear you paint houses.”
“It is what it is.”
“I am slightly concerned.”
“You charge a gun. With a knife, you run.”
I didn’t look at my watch once. And when it was done, I wanted to watch it again as soon as possible.
The Irishman is not without its flaws.
The CGI aging method doesn’t work. I had no idea how old anyone was supposed to be at any point. Robert De Niro looked 85 years old, but Joe Pesci was calling him “kid”. And when he was meant to be a younger man beating up a grocery store clerk, he moved like an 85-year-old man. It’s weird and distracting.
Also -- and you could probably say this about a lot of Scorsese's work -- women don’t have a whole lot to do in this movie. It’s three and a half hours but most of them are window dressing, which is disappointing.
It is hard to say how much of the movie is true. Frank Sheeran’s claim that he killed Hoffa remains highly questionable.
But what are we saying when we say it’s too long? We’re saying this experience isn’t worth that length. But what experience is? Sporting events are sometimes three hours long. Are they more worth it? Why? Mozart's opera Le Nozze Di Figaro lasts about three hours. And it probably costs a lot more than a movie. Is that not worth it?
It's also worth remembering that there are are a lot of great movies that are over three hours long. The Godfather, Part II, Gandhi, JFK, Malcolm X, Schindler’s List, Magnolia… Even Scorsese's 2013 movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, was three hours long.
For what it’s worth, the Internet (at least, Rotten Tomatoes) thinks that a long movie is more likely to be good.
Scorsese was right about what’s happening to movies. It’s superheroes or nothing. If you aren’t into prepackaged, preexisting content, you have to wait until the end of the year, when the Oscar movies start coming out. Most of them will be book adaptations. And who are those for? Old people.
The old people of today sit and watch with intention. They consume with purpose. They watch documentaries and read books. They are patient. And they take our abuse when we vilify them with our “OK Boomer”s and whatnot.
But old people preserve the culture. The stuff you’ve never heard of, they’re still into it. They may not be up on the newest trend, but that’s because they only have time with the things that last. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, old people know that time is short and precious and they don’t have time to mess around with content that isn’t enriching.
I won’t go as far as Scorsese does and tell you how to watch this movie. We all have to do the best we can with what we have. I don’t think the phone is a good way to go, but I think it's okay to break it up or watch it on Netflix.
But try to watch it one sitting. Allow yourself to be rewarded by something big. Something grand. Allow for the possibility of depth and meaning. Even if you end up not loving the movie, it will have been worth it.
I don’t know how much Netflix is doing for the preservation of classic cinema. But by letting Scorsese make the movie he wanted to, they are doing you a favour. Even if it was six hours long.