Mandatory Movies Battles: ‘The Irishman’ vs. ‘Goodfellas’
Martin Scorsese has contributed countless class films to the gangster genre, but his latest (and presumably last) entry to the genre, The Irishman, is a big deal. The film serves as not only the longest film of his career but also his first foray into streaming with Netflix. More importantly, it reunites three of the greatest actors of the 20th century: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. With that in mind, The Irishman naturally begs the question: how does it stack up to Goodfellas? Let’s find out!
Cover Photos: Warner Bros. and Netflix
When it comes to the gangster genre, violence is, for the most part, action. Although the violence in most of Scorsese’s work is fairly realistic, both The Irishman and Goodfellas both represent violence in slightly different manners. Whereas the violence in the former is more realistic and far more skillfully used, the latter offers a slightly more exaggerated and stylistic approach to the violence. As a result, Scorsese’s most recent film wins this round due to its sheer subtlety.
Winner: The Irishman
Both movies are expertly written crime dramas that are adapted from novels. Written by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas was adapted from Pileggi’s novel titled Wisegy. On the other hand, Steve Zaillian’s screenplay for The Irishman was based on Charles Brandt’s novel, I Heard You Paint Houses. Unfortunately, the latter severely mishandles its female characters, making Goodfellas a more well-rounded experience.
The cinematography in Scorsese’s movies is always a highlight, and his gangster movies are no exception. While both movies were shot using different formats, legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus shot Goodfellas on 35 millimeter film. Although the infamous tracking shot through the restaurant is a master class in itself, Rodrigo Pietro’s digital photography in The Irishman is similarly astounding. Ultimately, the latter film uses the camera to tell the story only slightly better, making it the winner in this round.
Winner: The Irishman
Even though The Irishman and Goodfellas both claim to be based on true stories, both take certain liberties with their adaptations. Goodfellas mostly sticks to the facts, bending the truth to tell a story of middling redemption for Henry Hill. On the flip side, The Irishman twists the facts of Frank Sheeran’s life to create a narrative that leans more into fiction than reality. With that in mind, Goodfellas wins this round due to the fact that Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance is still officially unsolved.
Both movies feature outstanding, career-defining direction from Scorsese. As arguably his most indelible film, Goodfellas represents the peak of everything that is appealing about the gangster movie genre. With that said, Scorsese’s direction in The Irishman is far more nuanced and meditative than any of his previous work. As a result, the latter film features some of the most mature work from Scorsese not only within this decade but also throughout this entire career.
Winner: The Irishman
Scorsese’s long-time collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker, edited both Goodfellas and The Irishman. However, they each represent opposite sides of the spectrum. Whereas the former has a lean run time of 145 minutes, the latter boasts a massive run time of 209 minutes. Ultimately, The Irishman’s bloated 3 1/2-hour run time easily makes Goodfellas the winner here.
While Scorsese is a master of casting, there’s no question that the respective casts of both Goodfellas and The Irishman are out of this world. Although the big-screen reunion of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, and Harvey Keitel is impressive in the latter, the chemistry between the iconic trio of De Niro, Pesci, and Ray Liotta in the former is hard to top, especially when you take into account the presence of Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, and even a cameo from Samuel L. Jackson, Goodfellas offers a classic recipe for the best pasta and meatballs you’ve ever had.
Mandatory Movie Battles: ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ vs. ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
In many ways, The Irishman serves as the culmination of Scorsese’s career. It’s a movie that is both reflective of his work while also serving as a deep meditation in finding redemption for one’s actions at the end of their life. At the same time, it also repeats much of what Scorsese has already accomplished throughout his illustrious career, even if it is a bit more refined. Ultimately, The Irishman is a solid effort from the legendary director. Time will tell, but at least for now, Goodfellas is a tighter and slightly more entertaining experience than The Irishman.
Overall Winner: Goodfellas