Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is an Irishman without wit, charm, charisma, comedy, tragedy, or drink. He reeks not of whiskey, but of AirWick®. He induces the phantom smell of pine, so as to lessen the stench of piss. He looks like a man—an old man—who stinks, who bears the odor of infirmity and incontinence, who absorbs the scent of his surroundings.
He is a killer, not a king.
A former servant to kings of the underworld, he nonetheless plays Lear to four daughters instead of three. He plays for their love—he prays to receive their forgiveness—when he should pray that filmgoers forgive (and forget) his performance.
As the titular star of the film, Robert De Niro is a somnambulant killer.
He delivers a 209-minute confession—with no remorse. He says what he feels, which is nothing.
His life is a story about how work tires the body without trying the soul. His work confirms a horrible truth, that full-time killers use their time to work, not think; that professional killers—people who kill for a living—do not care about the people they kill; that killing is no different than painting houses or joining the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Such is the banality of evil.
Such is the nature of De Niro’s role.
In the words of Marlon Brando, who shares a role in common with De Niro, the darkest killer is an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.
In “The Irishman,” the killer also drives a delivery truck.