' ' Cinema Romantico: Dissecting a Scene: Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night - Part 1

Monday, April 27, 2020

Dissecting a Scene: Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night - Part 1

“The Irishman”, as I noted in my review, ran three-and-a-half hours not simply to encompass the impressive breadth of a whole life lived but to make the sensation of the ending more acute, how a whole life lived can still feel, when the end comes, like it was all so short. Director Martin Scorsese expounds on that theme throughout, especially in his presentation of how business in the mafia is done, with a litany of people and moving parts and words, so many words, when really, once you cut through the organized crime version of red tape, it’s all so simple. This is most clearly, brilliantly conveyed in the movie’s most astonishing set piece, a mid-movie gala for its main character, Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), put on by the Teamsters union for whom he has been so loyal. If it’s his night, it’s not really his night at all, as the scene outlines, comprised, essentially, of four stanzas in the form of four conversations, all of which spend inordinate words to say one thing, though that one thing counts for so much more after all we go through to hear it.

The scene opens with a rapid-fire succession of establishing shots, ending by giving us the necessary feel for the room’s space before the characters proceed to inhabit virtually all of it.

Then we see the evening’s master of ceremonies (Kevin O’Rourke), who we will circle back around to in just a second, in long shot, letting us see the head table in full. The M.C. mentions Frank’s friends, how he has a lot of ’em.

To underline that point, before Scorsese and his crack editor Thelma Schoonmaker cut to Frank Sheeran in the flesh, they show successive shots of Felix DiTullio (Bobby Cannavale), the mafia captain who gave Frannk his start in the business, and Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano), the union lawyer who comes to Frank’s aid in the early days.

Then the movie cuts to Frank which DeNiro plays like he plays much of the movie, placidly, like you’re not quite sure if still waters run deep.

Then we i.d. the M.C., spotlighting one of the film’s best recurring and most comical bits, titles putting a point on how everyone in this life ends up on the wrong side of it sooner or later.

McCullough proceeds to introduce the heavy-hitters at the guest of honor’s table.The President of the NAACP.

The Philadelphia D.A.

The Philadelphia Mayor.

And then, last, putting a point on how in this world he carries more weight than the NAACP President, the D.A. and the freaking Mayor put together, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

Back to a long shot as the M.C. cracks a joke about the FBI hiding outside in the bushes.

At which point the movie cuts to Peggy (Anna Paquin), Frank’s daughter. She is essentially the movie’s wordless Greek chorus, the camera always seeking her out to gauge her reaction, silently rendering judgement, the one character throughout who recognizes her father’s life and her father for what they are. As such, her reaction is not to laugh, unlike everybody around her, but cast her eyes downward, not so much grinning, even grudgingly, as pressing her lips together to say Nah, that’s not so funny. 

And so, we get down to the gristle, with Tony Salerno (Domenick Lombardozzi), head of the Genovese crime family, chomping on a cigar and staring down...

...Jimmy. Who stares right back.

Then the camera cuts wider, showing Tony Salerno and Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), head of his family’s crime organization and Frank’s protector, friend, kinda mentor, staring at Jimmy.

Pacino then has Jimmy bite into a piece of steak like a non-verbal manifesto.

Salerno then turns toward Russell and provides the explanation on which the whole scene turns, about Jimmy, out of prison but barred from officially rejoining his precious union, is nevertheless acting like its head anyway, holding back loans that should be authorized by the current President, Frank Fitzsimmons. “He said to somebody,” Salerno explains, “once Fitz is out and he’s in, he’s going to call in old loans. Real estate, casinos, whatever it is, you don’t pay him the full thing and interest in two seconds, he’s taking them over.”

“He said that?” Russell asks.

“He said that,” Salerno insists.

“You’re sure he said that?” Russell asks, with Pesci emphasizing the “sure”, demonstrating the style of language in the entire scene (the entire movie), where the same thing is said several times, that Mafia idea of you better not be feeding me any bullshit because if you are...

Scorsese and Schoonmaker then cut back to Jimmy once more, with Pacino kind of leaning forward, his posture essentially communicating “bring it on”, as if this is a boxing match and Round 1 just ended.


Sweet Caroline said...

Jesse Plemons's character is not Anna Paquin's character's husband. He's Hoffa's foster son Chuckie O'Brien. Don't assume a woman is married just because a man is sitting next to her.

Nick Prigge said...

Stupid assumption and oversight on my part that simple proofreading would have corrected. Will fix. I appreciate your calling it out.