LONDON • When Anna Paquin joined the cast of director Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, it seemed like a decent break for the actress, who has flown under the radar since her days as the half-vampire Sookie Stackhouse on TV series True Blood (2008 to 2014).
Paquin's was the only big female name alongside the likes of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and a myriad of other recognisable male stars – an anomaly that held the promise of a particularly meaty female role (if Scorsese's gangster flicks serve as evidence).
But even though The Irishman never suggests it would prominently feature its female characters, few could have anticipated quite how absent its most important female figure is.
Played by Paquin as an adult woman and Lucy Gallina as a child, Peggy Sheeran is the daughter of De Niro's hitman, Frank Sheeran. A practically mute, moral spectre judging her father's criminal lifestyle from the sidelines, she appears only a handful of times – less than 10 minutes in total.
The Irishman's narrative revolves around Frank's imperfect recollections of when he first became involved with the Italian mafia in his 40s through to his present day in a nursing home. Within these boundaries, Peggy is disconcertingly diminished: Paquin speaks six words in a movie that clocks in at 3½hours.
There may be a potency to such intentional restraint within the film's elegiac trappings, yet circumscribing Peggy as Frank's moral conscience remains doggedly frustrating. Is she more of a symbol than an actual person?
While not exactly gender progressive, Scorsese's testosterone-fuelled gangster movies have carved out provocative roles for women.
Take, for example, actress Lorraine Bracco's complicit mob wife in Goodfellas (1990). Along with her protagonist husband, Henry, Bracco's Karen Hill is given the narrative space to air her grievances and articulate her desires in stretches of voiceover narration – helping to outline the private and public consequences of Henry's criminal enterprise.
Ginger McKenna in Casino (1995), meanwhile, may fit too neatly into the femme fatale archetype, but actress Sharon Stone's physically committed performance – from poised hustler to woman on the edge, brought down by addiction and avarice – is one of the film's memorable elements.
But Paquin's Peggy is markedly different from the female roles of Scorsese gangster films past. She is more a tool for expressing the protagonist's moral blindness, and a vehicle that primes audiences to feel certain ways about other characters, rather than a fully drawn person.
As a child, Peggy learns to avoid her father after witnessing a brutal episode that demonstrates his capacity for violence. She openly disdains his shady friend and employer, Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), whom she understands on some instinctive level is a villain and her father's corruptor. She rebuffs his attempts to win her favour with Christmas cash and ice skates. Instead, Peggy prefers the company of impassioned and personable labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and his warm, if flawed, paternal instincts.
As an adult, Peggy's taciturn presence is an implicit condemnation of the film's degraded masculine worldview. The nail in the coffin of Peggy and Frank's relationship is Paquin's only spoken line in the film, a six-word question that has Peggy confronting her father after his act of betrayal.
Paquin's comically low line-count is reminiscent of criticism of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2Read More – Source