I Heard You Paint Houses

I don’t want to review Martin Scorsese’s  The Irishman (which, by the way, is titled I Heard You Paint Houses onscreen, which was the name of the book that it is based on. That is in every possible way a better title than  The Irishman and I am confused why it isn’t the official title). Everyone who writes about film has written or will write about this movie. The reviews are strong, which is as it should be. This is a wonderful, elegiac, lyrical film that puts a cap on Scorsese’s  mobster film oeuvre. What I do want to talk about is Joe Motherfucking Pesci.

Joe Pesci is 76 years old and has been retired from acting for over twenty years.  He’s a small, odd looking fellow who largely became famous playing tough guys in Scorsese films. He’s also had something of a side-business playing likable doofus characters (notably in the Lethal Weapon franchise and of course in My Cousin Vinny).  It’s that second category that isn't unexpected.

Pesci looks the part of the comic relief. It says something that Scorsese could see the tough guy inside. And that tough guy is what his role in The Irishman is about.  He plays Russell Bufalino, a connected guy. Russell isn’t given to outward bursts of violence. We don’t see him kill people, or get in fights. Russell kills with a knowing nod, a softly spoken phrase – “it is what it is” he says, sealing someone’s fate as easily as he might order a plate of pasta.

Despite his outward appearance, Pesci imbues   Russell with a deep undercurrent of menace. You can sense the coiled snake within him, ready to strike. Pesci carries violence in his shoulders and his eyes. He never needs to put it in his voice or his words. He doesn’t need to use his fists.

This is one of the best performances of the year. I am shocked that Pesci doesn't seem to be in the conversation for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He should be. 

I assume that this film is a swan song for Pesci. It’s a fitting cap to a marvelous career, and yet it will be a shame to see him go.