The Irishman vs. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

DID YOU NOTICE THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THESE HYPED, EPIC STORIES?

*They are both too long. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood runs at 2 hours and 40 minutes whereas The Irishman runs even longer at three and a half hours. Both stories could have shaved at least a half an hour and retained the essence of the story.

*They both feature iconic directors at the ends of their career doing their respective genres with all their signature marks. Cashing in on what made them famous? Give the audience what they want? Both directors are passionate about making violent films with antiheroes who gain our sympathy. Both directors have fans who worship them. Scorsese and Tarantino are boys who never stopped playing Cowboys and Indians and G.I. Joe. Their films are about who has the power, and how does he hold on to it? Nothing new in that storyline. There’s a testosterone need to see power executed on the screen with blood splatters and firebombs and Kung Fu fighting. A raucous way to combat the boredom of ordinary life. Scorsese and Tarantino fill an escapist need. How did you feel they handled their stories behind the camera? I liked Scorsese’s break to the long shot to show the environment of his characters. I liked Tarantino’s shot behind the driver’s head so you felt like you were along for the ride in the back seat of the car.

Both films rely heavily upon conversation scenes that show how normal the players are when the characters are anything but typical guys; mobsters and movie stars are real people, too. Whatever it is they are bitching about, when their gripe resonates with us, we become empathetic. Which conversation scene worked for you? Mine was Al Pacino as Hoffa when he went to Florida to meet Joe Gallo who shows up fifteen minutes late in shorts.

Both films rely heavily upon cameos of people in the industry that come and go without much importance. The reasoning behind this is they are the pepper flakes in the pot of soup that defines the culture. I wish that Harvey Keitel had had more lines, too.

These are Dick Flicks. Both films are about male interactions. Women are virtually non-existent, and when they do appear, they pose. They are there to amplify the historical climate with their costumes and hairstyles; they are subservient dolls and sexual objects. The wives and daughters in The Irishman and Precious Pussy and Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood come to mind. In The Irishman, there’s a scene when a remorseful Frank tries to understand what when wrong with the relationship between his four daughters. Peggy, his favorite, has disowned him. The other daughter says, “You don’t understand how hard it was for us, do you?” Nope. We have no idea how hard it was because they never had screen time, only glaring looks from Peggy as a girl when Frank breaks the hand of a grocer who nudged her in the store. Anna Paquin‘s role was a waste.

As a woman, I’m not offended. It’s a story about men and their observations from a historical era of the past. It’s perfect, really. It does show how women were viewed. That’s precisely why the “Me, too” movement” came about. To ask Tarantino and Scorsese to give a chick a meaty role defeats their intention. Which is —

Both directors wanted to show a male culture, the relationships between males in their historical era. This is a story about Frank and Cliff who are cleaner fish, who depend and defend their masters. Women weren’t essential to their beings. Their jobs as a stuntman and hitman necessitated a symbiotic relationship with other men to validate their appeal and power. I accept that. It is similar to the movie The Help. That story was about the relationship between females in the 1950-60s. The class struggle between white women and their black hired help who raise the babies but their livelihood depends upon the tight-rope walk between the chemistry of women. The men in the film were weak and virtually non-existent. I accept that. Women and men had definite boundaries in history. Gender spheres have always been the norm until recently. Now it’s a blended, androgynous society. I’m not convinced it’s better.

Both stories don’t have a plot. Characters are placed in situations and asked to problem solve. The solution is murder.

Both directors infuse music to establish the time and mood; music becomes a bit character in the movie. There’s rarely a scene in both films where the music doesn’t play, such as an accompaniment to a murder, a live performance at Frank’s retirement party,  or Cliff Booth’s car radio. The auditory image triggers the past of those who lived during the time. Popular music helps younger audiences associate the era with the characters. Music binds the multi-generations in a way that a set design can’t penetrate. Both directors are keenly aware of this and use it to the point of distraction.

Both films contain the dream cast of icons with the star power of three generations. I had a sugar rush from so much eye candy. The emotional love between the audience and the star fills the audience with the notion that “this is the movie of the year.” Haven’t you predicted these two films and their stars will be nominated for top awards? Wasn’t Al Pacino great as Hoffa? Who would have expected Joe Pesci to be outstanding, ascending past the acting of Robert DeNiro? You love to hate Leonardo DiCaprio, but his portrayal of the insecure Rick Dalton was brilliant.

Brad and Bobbie similarity:  The story follows the characters of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro). These are the two principal characters who support and are defined by the Alpha Dog they protect. Yet, Pitt and DeNiro’s acting was surpassed by others.

Both films are obsessed with paying attention to the details that recreate a time in history with mastery and great love. For both directors, their highest achievement was their attention to the details that created the historical climate. For Tarantino, the nostalgic drive around L.A. was authentic, and we time-traveled back to the streets of 1969. For Scorsese, his epic spanned decades; his sets and film locations were real places, too, and his recreation of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were perfect. Congratulations to both. It made me hang in there as the hours went by.

Which epic was better? Which one would you watch more than once? 

53 thoughts on “The Irishman vs. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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  1. An astute post, Cindy. I couldn’t agree more about the lack of material from female characters in both films. To be fair to both directors, though, they have done movies with strong female characters in the past. Kill Bill and Goodfellas and Casino all contain meaty roles for the actresses involved. That aside, I can understand The Irishman’s lack of it due to Frank being so absorbed in his own mob life that he forgot about his daughters needs. Once Upon a Time, however, is quite offensive in its depiction of females. Margot Robbie is completely wasted and left with nothing to do but look good.

    Not sure, that I agree that DeNiro or Pitt we’re inferior to the actors around them. Their performances are more subtle. There’s no grandstanding involved and they are harder roles to grab attention. I’ve seen both films twice and on a second viewing it’s telling how good they both are. DeNiro is particular has an etched pain on his throughout The Irishman. For a man that hold his emotions back, you can see desperately creeping out. It’s the best I’ve seen him in years. And the same goes for Pitt.

    1. Hi Someone! I wonder who you are…
      DeNiro: he was excellent in the role, no doubt about it. I loved the de-aging, I saw that desperation you referred to when he was in the middle between Hoffa and Russell (Pesci, now HE mastered subtlety in the film.) and his knowledge of what he had to do. For some reason, I wished there was a tear or the watering of the eyes. Something subtle. More than a grimaced look throughout. With Pitt, he’s subtle and charming and still great looking stripped on the roof catching the rays while he daydreams. He has a perpetual smirky-smile like life is a big joke. I don’t mind that at all. Especially paired with the the expressive Leo who gets a bad rap for being over-the-top — I thought he was balanced and it was funny to see him break down and self-depricating. I got the impression that’s what it must be like for a lot of ego-driven actors. Hell, I bet that’s how Tarantino acts behind closed doors…
      Casino was better because of Sharon Stone and Margot Robbie got the shaft.
      But which one did you like better? That is, which one was the better movie?

  2. Cindy, I have skipped your article for now, as I haven’t seen either film yet.
    I started watching The Irishman on Thursday, and saw the first 40 minutes or so. I thought it was WONDERFUL!
    I will let you know once I have seen the rest. I will probably buy the Tarantino film in the new year, on DVD.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

          1. I have read your article now, but cannot comment on the Tarantino film, as I haven’t seen it.
            As for The Irishman, you sum it up perfectly. It worked for me on so many levels. History, Performance, Direction, Time and Place, I loved it almost as much as I love Goodfellas. In time, I may well put them on an even footing.
            Here is my review, which is very positive about the film. I couldn’t find a single thing not to like.
            https://beetleypete.com/2019/12/01/just-been-watching-113/
            Concerning the roles for female actors, I often think that the wives/daughters/girlfriends had little to do in the real-life of those people, so that is perhaps an accurate reflection in the film.
            Best wishes, Pete. x

          2. Yes, I agree with the role of women, the lack of them. I think it’s a perfect rendition of what it was like “back then”. Women were ancillary and best seen but not heard. This is a film about a culture of men. I wasn’t offended.

  3. I haven’t seen “The Irishman” yet but love that you are taking an in-depth look at both…I will read and respond once I’ve seen it…I read an article that has either one as the most likely “Best Picture” of 2019 at this point, but still early in the season…apparently “1917” is masterful as well….and “Marriage Story” too…

    1. Hmmm. Good question. Goodfellows is tight and not an epic which makes it easier to follow. Irishman is a softer story with fine performances.
      So, if liked Goodfellas, you would like Irishman.

          1. That’s when Marisa Tomei broke into the business. I think she’s great. I loved her performance in ‘The Wrestler’. It was good for me to see Joe Pesci disappear into the role of the Mafia boss in ‘The Irishman’. He was outstanding.

  4. I know I’ll enjoy both of these. My mother was great at knowing every actress and actor, including their personal histories. It got so I thought she had an “on” with old Hollywood!! haha

  5. the irishman had a few decent scenes but no memorable ones.. it played like a television miniseies edited down to what could hve been two feature films, but for a gangster miniseries, the sopranos was much better. scorsese had a fantastic run for two decades in the last 35 years, but has been more valuable as an archivalist, a teacher, and a champion of hollywoods studio era than as a film maker. there are no ideas in the irishman. most of the shots we have seen in his earlier films, beginning with the first one, which is a near repeat of the trip through the backdoor to the best table in the house in goodfellas. the acting is all pretty bad, deniro especially looks like he has been taking how to act wth your mouth lessons fron keira knightley. pesci has one expression throughout. i disagree with you about the father daughter relationship, it was one of the few aspects of the film that seemed fresh. i could hardly stay awake throughout the picture, and was only intermittantly invested in the story. it was the same old crap that has seen better days . i agree with you on pacino, though. he was a far more interesting hoffa than was nicholson. as for tarantino, he was never any good. his only watchable movie was pulp fiction, which came at a time when american movies were at an all time low, and inspired a brief period of rejuvanation. but that was 25 years ago. i wouldnt say he is at the end of his career in the same way that scorsese is. the thing that gave pulp fiction its oomph was the chemistry between travolta and jackson. he tries for the same thing in hollywood, but dicaprio and pitt have no chemistry. they are individually and as a duo extremely boring. the movie is one endless incidental anecdote after another, and all of the are aimless and go on forever. it is one long tedious drive through the mind of a mental midget. the alternate history if the manson massacre is a good idea, but totally botched by tarantino and company. the art direction in terms of period ephemera was about as interesting as a sunday afternoon in a vintage botique. . if you want to see the work of a true american auteur, i recommend Nicole Holofcener. and for an excellent 2019 picture, dont miss Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

    1. Scorsese is better as “Archivalist, a teacher, and a champion of hollywoods studio era than as a film maker.” I agree with you! I love to listen to him talk about the history of cinema and his love for the movies.

      “The thing that gave pulp fiction its oomph was the chemistry between travolta and jackson. he tries for the same thing in hollywood, but dicaprio and pitt have no chemistry. they are individually and as a duo extremely boring.”
      I agree with you here, too. As a duo, no, not so unique. I did like DiCaprio’s handling of the neurotic, sensitive actor who knows he’s a has-been.
      I would love to see a female auteur. I’ve got Nciole Holofcener’s film on my watchlist.

          1. doing a lot of reading, just finished an excellent history of WW2. All Hell Let Loose_ by Max Hastings and a fantasy satire by Neil Gaiman, American Gods. Just started Another Country by James Baldwin…..have been working on an inventory of all the music, movies and books in my collections. am just about finished organizing about half of the movies by director. have written over100 songs over the past four months and am remastering a lot of my older recordings, spending a lot of time with my soon to be fou year old daughter and worrying about our future. i tried to buy your novel at amazon but they dont take paypal and i have no bank cards.

          2. Lots of reading, huh? We are reading about the same event. I’m researching for the third book and it’s set in WW2. ‘Ghost Soldiers’ about the rescue of POWs in the Philippines. ‘No-No Boy’ by John Okada and Japanese racism. ‘Grit’ about Nurses who were POWs in Philippines. I have Eleanore Roosevelt’s bio and some Code-Talkers. Nisei. I’m interested in the Nisei. I’m soooo happy the semester is drawing to a close and I can have some time to continue blogging and try to make time for the new novel. Sorry to hear you are worrying about your future. I hope you figure out a solution sooner than later.

  6. Spot on look at these two, Cindy. I think both should have been reined in by their editors regarding their length. In QT’s case, the loss of Sally Meinke is most noticeable in his output since her death. Looking at his most recent, THE HATEFUL EIGHT and ONCE UPON…, he’s even put out extended cuts post-release! As if we’d surely had missed something. Now, the former I caught on Netflix where the result only works if treated as a mini-series and not as one loooonnnngggg feature film. I’ll probably take in the extended for the latter, just out curiosity.

    Re: Scorsese, I don’t know where or who to pin this on. Maybe it’s because of THE DEPARTED’s success. Let me go on record as not a fan of that one. I think it pales compared to GOODFELLAS and CASINO and still believe it was make up call by the vaunted Academy for past oversights, IMO. It should have been closer in length to the film it was a direct remake of, INFERNAL AFFAIRS* (151 vs. 101 minutes).

    Certainly, THE IRISHMAN is closer to his best rather than his lesser work…again, just my opinion. My problem with it is its length (and maybe historical accuracy, but it’s not a documentary). Either way, great to read your thoughts on both and how they parallel each other, Cindy. Brava. 🙂

    I still think Scorsese and the studio tried to keep it on the down low till the clamor of fans reached a certain pitch

      1. I know you don’t. That was frenetic and bizarre film. Jack N. was over the top. I didn’t like his performance. Although, I thought it unique that in the end everyone gets shot. Usually someone lives in most stories. This felt like a tragedy of sorts.

          1. The 2002 Hong Kong film ‘Infernal Affairs, right? I have not. Now I want to. I wonder if the ending is the same. The Departed was a tragedy. Everyone died. It is unusual these days.

    1. Hi Michael — thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! We agree on just about everything, here. Yeah, with Irishman, because it was Netflix, I agree, it would have been better as a series. I couldn’t watch it in one setting. I watched half on Thursday and the other half on Friday. Same thing with Hollywood. Too long, I found it boring even with all the music set too high for my ears. It was jarring. But, I was never a big Tarantino fine. I think Pulp Fiction is brillaint, and I had fun watching Kill Bill, but I didn’t like anything else after that except the opening scene with Chris W. in Inglorious Basterds. I think Tarantino is manaical. Regardless, both were epics and I have a hard time with them. They are just so hard to make and have an audience stay with you for so long. Also, I like stories with a plot. A beginning, a middle, and an end. I don’t like how Tarantino stages his films as episodic, conversational scenes that go nowhere. I find them maddening.

    1. As Pete says, ‘The Irishman’ is restrained, therefore, a digestable experience with great attention to detail and iconic actors sharing the screen is a treat. ‘Once Upon a time in Hollywood’ has great details and has entertaining parts to it, but I doubt I’d ever watch it again.

  7. I haven’t seen either film sadly. I’ll probably pass on Tarantino, as I have for the last 25 years. I would like to see The Irishmen, although it will probably feel like the end of an era. I really enjoyed the post and the discussion, and it’s good to read Bill White’s thoughts again.

    1. Hi Paul, Bill has been a film critic for decades and he’s never had a problem with sharing his opinions. I appreciate his insights. No worries about missing Tarantino. Not my thing really, and I know how much you love the screw ball comedy and your girls, Meg and Michelle. 😉

  8. Great post 🙂 I love both films 🙂 Nevertheless, I would rank The Irishman higher because the emotional drama hits the hardest in that film. In fact, I have watched The Irishman twice and plan to watch it many more times 🙂 Unlike Scorsese’s past gangster films, The Irishman is a more melancholy affair. Yes, you have that electrifying editing and soundtrack, but at the same time, one gets a subtle sense of pure tragedy here. For example, look at Scorsese’s use of The Five Satins “In the Still of the Night” and you get my drift. In the end, one really does feel for De Niro’s character, but at the same time, he only had himself to blame for making his family feel alienated from him. I am a huge Scorsese fan and in many ways, I think this may be his most mature gangster film when one takes into account that it feels like a gangster epic told from an old man’s point-of-view – De Niro’s character. In case you are interested, here is a link to my blog entry of my favorite Martin Scorsese films and keep up the great work as always 🙂

    https://cinematiccoffee.com/2018/07/24/my-favorite-martin-scorsese-films/

    1. There’s one criticism I hear repeated and it makes sense. The CGI de-aging process was amazing, BUT CGI can’t take the hobbling gait outta 70 + year old men. There were scenes where et al were in their 40s and walking and moving stiffly like their true age. That’s legit.
      So glad you came by today to comment, John.

  9. VERY fun and interesting examination Cindy. There certainly are some intriguing similarities that I hadn’t paid attention to. The only two things I wouldn’t entirely agree with: 1) I actually really like the longer lengths as I think both directors do some meaningful things within that extra time. 2) I wouldn’t call Sharon Tate a sex object or say she’s there to simply amplify the historical climate. I think she has a small but purposeful presence. She symbolizes righteousness, innocence, and purity. And the very last shot in the movie (I won’t spoil it) is loaded with meaning (for me at least).

    That aside, as filmmakers you hit so many nails on the head. Their epic-sized movies definitely incorporate so many of the traits you talk about. And when you think about it, it’ll be sad to see these two no longer leaving their marks on the cinema landscape.

    1. Keith,
      Thanks so much for chiming in! Sharon Tate: Yes, she’s not a sex object but her presence feels too airy for much meaning. Yea, I’ll give you purity, riotousness, and innocence. What do you think about the criticism of the de-aging having a flaw (I liked it) that it couldn’t conceal the old bodies and their stiff gaits?

      1. There is something to some of De Niro’s more physical moments. At times they looked like the movements of an elderly man (no offense Bobby). But they never really distracted me. I thought the de-aging worked fine maybe because the dialogue is so snappy and the pacing so crisp.

  10. I haven’t seen the Tarantino movie yet, but I had lots of issues with The Irishman. It was competently made and acted, but it was way, way too long. I also thought that the de-aging wasn’t believable (faces look like play-dough and actors still walked like old(er) people). And, dear Al Pacino, please stop yelling… you wear me out. That said, it is a flawed but good movie and Joe Pesci was fantastic.

    1. I wasn’t bowled over with The Irishman. Your criticisms are duly noted, although Pacino was tame considering other roles he’s shouted at me for. Joe Pesci was marvelous. I’m not upset that DeNiro wasn’t nominated and Pesci was. I think he has a good shot.

      1. I just watched the Tarantino movie … like Irishman, flawed but it does have its moments. Frankly, I’m sort of tired of these films about toxic masculinity. Joker was another one. It’s terribly sad and unfair that movies about women are dismissed as “chick flicks,” yet these films about men acting horribly are praised to high heavens! Personally, films like 20th Century Women, The Favourite, Thoroughbreds, etc., tend to offer more nuanced characterizations and complex issues.

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