When The Irishman arrives later this year, it will be the most expensive movie Martin Scorsese has ever made. The reason for its high price tag is the digital de-aging. The movie follows the life of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a teamster who claimed to be a mob hitman responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Whether you believe Sheeran’s claims or not (based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, which recounts Sheeran’s “confessions” from near the end of his life), it’s an ambitious task to take the 76-year-old De Niro and age him down to his 20s. We got a glimpse of the de-aging in the first trailer, but now Netflix has released four new images to show the aging process:
A lot can happen in a lifetime. pic.twitter.com/S2eLY1dB88
— The Irishman (@TheIrishmanFilm) September 25, 2019
I know Netflix paid a lot of money for these VFX (the film’s price tag is pegged at around $160 million), but either the VFX house tasked with this work didn’t quite nail it, didn’t have enough time, or didn’t have enough manpower. Whatever the reason, these effects look bad, and it’s not like they’re going to look better when they’re in motion. It looks like someone made a simulated version of Robert De Niro to answer your questions about a murder in L.A. Noire.
It’s not like digital de-aging is impossible, and obviously it’s a frontier that Hollywood is eager to explore. We saw the mixed results earlier this year in Captain Marvel. Credit where it’s due, Samuel L. Jackson as young Nick Fury looked excellent (it doesn’t hurt that Jackson, who turns 71 this year, looks like he’s in his late 50s) while a de-aged Clark Gregg was more questionable. The upcoming Gemini Man is basing its entire premise on being able to put a present-day Will Smith side-by-side with what he looked like in his 20s. But what’s happening with The Irishman looks like it belongs back in the early 2010s with de-aged Jeff Bridges as Clu in TRON: Legacy.
And if Netflix feels confident enough to use this in the marketing, this is as good as it’s going to look. The film premieres Friday at the New York Film Festival. It’s done. There’s no time to go back and tweak it and pull De Niro out of the Uncanny Valley. Maybe the storytelling is so good we’ll eventually forget we’re looking at a cartoon version of an acclaimed actor, but that remains to be seen.
The Irishman will have a limited theatrical release on November 1st before arriving on Netflix on November 27th.