IN the opening scene of director Martin Scorsese’s blood-soaked 1990 thriller Goodfellas, Ray Liotta’s low-level mobster waxes lyrical in voiceover about the irresistible allure of a life of crime.

“To be a gangster was to own the world,” he purrs.

His words resonate throughout Scorsese’s exhaustive and exhausting return to the underworld with leading men Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, which transplants the toxic masculinity from New York to the mean streets of Philadelphia.

Stephen Zaillian, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Schindler’s List, confidently plunders Charles Brandt’s true-crime book I Heard You Paint Houses to recount an epic tale of brotherhood, which culminates in the disappearance of labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa in July 1975.

De Niro snags the melodic voiceover here, delivering expertly polished one-liners – ‘Usually three people can keep a secret only when two of them are dead’ - with his trademark growl.

His long-awaited on-screen reunion with Pesci lights the fuse on a dazzling display of verbal fireworks. Al Pacino scorches every frame as bullying Hoffa, who refuses to cede control of the Teamsters and pays a sickeningly high price for his hubris.

Scorsese’s long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker overcharges our patience with a running time – three-and-a-half hours – that feels almost as bloated as some of the titular heavy’s lifeless victims.

Second World War veteran Frank Sheeran (De Niro) earns a tidy wage for his family as a meat truck delivery driver.

In good time, he catches the eye of Pennsylvania crime boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci), who utilises the former soldier’s skill-set to eliminate rivals, which Frank refers to as ‘painting houses’ by virtue of the lurid red splatter on walls

Frank does Russell’s bidding and earns the nickname The Irishman as he tosses one firearm after another into the river.

“If they ever send divers down there, they can arm a small country,” quips Frank.

The Irishman wins the respect of kingpin Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and becomes a close ally of the second most powerful man in America after the president: Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

However, Frank cannot charm his daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin), whose silent disapproval creates a chilly divide between the generations.

The Irishman invests a sizeable chunk of the reported $150 million budget in distracting digital trickery to de-age the septuagenarian cast. Their youthful sheen eventually gels with Scorsese’s directorial brio and impeccable period detail, which marks the film as a frontrunner for Oscar recognition.

De Niro, Pesci, Pacino et al posture and snarl through decades of fraternal bonding with predictable intensity and fury. When bruised egos collide and sinews throb in claustrophobic close-up, we can convince ourselves that the film’s excessive grandeur is tolerable.

RATING: 8/10

The Irishman will be released in cinemas on Friday and on Netflix from November 27