28 September 2019 | Mengedegna
A Master Class in Film-making
Seen this afternoon at the NYFF.
This film will doubtless go down as "The Godfather" of its generation, with Pacino and De Niro both on hand to assure continuity. Neither of them has done anything remotely as brilliant as this in decades, and the great revelation of the film, Joe Pesci, hasn't done anything at all. It has taken Scorsese's alchemy, back at its peak, to bring the three of them together in ways that surpass the sum of their considerable parts.
Although (or because?) much of the film concerns the bleakness of old age, each of them, Scorsese included, is here restored to his astonishing peak capacity: the film's dirty little secret is that much of its substance concerns the process of human subsidence and movement toward the grave (some -- many -- more expeditiously than others, of course, with titles accompanying the first appearance of so many of the minor characters to tell us , laconically, in which appalling way this was accomplished), its principals seem to have discovered the fountain that restores, if not their youth, at least their youthful talents and energy, albeit with a world-weariness that we should all heed.
Don't worry about the fim's amazing length -- it goes by at warp speed, and if if not for slowing down of its own accord (and logic) in its final half hour, you might feel deprived by how swiftly it is dispatched.
The professional reviews. out today, make much of the digital "de-aging" that allows the principals to be portrayed in early and late middle age, as well as closer to their natural ages. I confess that I don't see a problem with this, nor, I suspect, will most viewers. Under Maestro Scorsese's baton, all of them are fully convincing at each of these phases of life.
Interestingly, it is De Niro (who played the young Vito Corleone) to whom the elegiac moments, poignantly and all-too-realistically portrayed, are given, whereas it is Pacino, to whom had those unforgettable solo moments as the middle-aged Don were given, whose role here ends as it began -- in the total intoxication and lack of self-awareness of the powerful and unscrupulous. Pesci's self-awareness and watchful, controlling understanding of the realities of power, obviates the need for introspection -- he never wavers in his understanding of where the chess pieces stand on the board, and how they must, inevitably, be moved, and only fleetingly does he seem to perceive the cost of all that. Far more than his scenery-chomping past roles for Scorsese and others, Pesci's character here is, in this sense, the most terrifying figure in the film.
The political messages are oblique (history unfolds largely in the background, on TV sets), but the core Scorsese message about the utter corruption of American life and the impossibility of combating this -- if only because the alleged watchdogs, up to and including Presidents, are , in turn, so easily corrupted -- comes through loud and clear. It's hardly an original message, but Scorsese (like Coppola before him) dissects these dynamics with exquisite precision. The message for our current politics couldn't be clearer, or scarier.
Mention must be made of the flawless ensemble cast which backs up these principals, including the amazing women, who play such important, but background roles. (In mob films, as in Catfish Row in the great revival of "Porgy and Bess" now at the Metropolitan Opera, "a woman is a sometime thing." )
I feel privileged to have been present at one of the first public screenings of a film that will certainly join the pantheon. But I must get back to see it again and again, such is the richness contained in almost every frame and sequence.