Friday Flicks November 22: “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” & “The Irishman”

M.V. MoorheadNovember 2019
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Opening this weekend:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood—The life and career of Mr. Rogers is a truly remarkable story, and it was very capably told in last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? This drama, in which the kid-show host is played by Tom Hanks, is trying for something different.

To begin with, Mr. Rogers isn’t the central character; most of the movie’s screen time is devoted to Matthew Rhys, as a fictionalized version of journalist Tom Junod, who wrote a profile of Fred Rogers for Esquire in 1998. Deeply embittered by his own unhappy childhood and violently furious at his father (Chris Cooper), he’s initially disgusted by the assignment, buying into the superficial view of his subject as a purveyor of pablum.  He‘s startled by the aggressive warmth with which Rogers greets him, and the probing personal questions and seeming deep interest in his feelings that ensue.

Rhys is first-rate in what could be a seriously thankless role. He manages not to overplay either the rage or the redemption; he avoids looking silly. But Hanks is undeniably fascinating as Mr. Rogers. While he does a fair approximation of the Rogers verbal rhythms and a sweetly hilarious recreation of the host’s bumbling ineffectuality with regard to simple tasks like setting up a tent, he doesn’t seem to be attempting a full-on impersonation. But he gets across not just the celebrated gentleness and acceptance but also a certain shrewdness, a cultivated inscrutability, a canny acuity when it comes to reading people.

Perhaps intentionally, director Marielle Heller (of Can You Ever Forgive Me?) doesn’t always keep the narrative perfectly lucid. The film has surreal visions, and an overall dreamlike tone. But what it’s saying is clear enough: These days, grown-ups need Mr. Rogers at least as much as kids.

Still in release:

The Irishman—It moves to Netflix November 27, but you can still catch Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour gangster flick at FilmBar and IPIC this week, and it’s worth seeing on the big screen. Scripted by Steven Zaillian from Charles Brandt’s book I Hear You Paint Houses, it chronicles the career of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), a Philadelphia-based mob assassin who became a bodyguard and close friend of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Sheeran was a reliable killer (he claimed he started with POWs in WWII) for whom shooting someone in the face was a task that seemed to carry little more emotional weight than driving a truck.

Thus the unassuming, obedient, conciliatory manner of DeNiro’s performance plays beautifully against Pacino’s knock-out turn as Hoffa. Pacino doesn’t enter the film for a while, but once he does he puts on quite a show. It’s one of his grandest portrayals ever; an eccentric and by no means unlikable buffoon who erroneously believes that his own arrogant bravado makes him invulnerable. But for all Pacino’s flamboyance, DeNiro’s low-key, sometimes almost boyish work claims the movie in the long run, especially in the chilly yet humane and poignant final scenes.

Pacino, DeNiro and Joe Pesci do effortlessly brilliant work, along with a huge supporting cast ranging from Ray Romano to Harvey Keitel to Anna Paquin, who barely speaks but makes her presence memorably felt. But the movie isn’t just an actor’s showcase; Scorsese shows a stately, sweeping, novelistic directorial touch. The length, detail and deliberate pacing of The Irishman give the film a commanding, epic weight. Yet Scorsese’s wit is still on display: Throughout the film, shady characters are introduced, and the gruesome manner of their future deaths appear onscreen in subtitle. It’s as if Scorsese is heading off the charge that he glamorizes mobsters—preemptively admitting that crime does not pay.

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