The much-anticipated latest effort by Martin Scorsese, THE IRISHMAN, based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa” by Charles Brandt, is well worth a trip to the theater, despite its lengthy run-time of three hours and 29 minutes. Scorsese introduces Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) the Irishman, as an old man in a nursing home and allows him to guide us through the story of his ascent from a local delivery man to a protected member of the mob.
Frank catches the attention of Felix DiTullio (Bobby Cannavale), then in turn, Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a very well-connected mobster and head of the small Bufalino family. These two form a great partnership, especially once Frank begins to “paint houses”, a euphemism for whacking people for the mob.
Russell greatly appreciates Frank’s loyalty and talents, and requests that he become a soldier for Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). As they grow closer and Frank becomes a local union president, Hoffa gets himself imprisoned by the Feds.
After his incarceration, Hoffa is determined to regain the presidency of the Teamsters, but the powers-that-be have other ideas. And the more Hoffa pushes, the clearer the handwriting on the wall becomes that his number is up.
Right before his death, Sheeran confessed to reporters that he was responsible for killing Hoffa on July 30, 1975. Though it has never been unequivocally proven, screenwriter Steven Zaillian follows this premise, along with other notable events in Frank’s life. The brutality of this “business” is on full display in THE IRISHMAN, and as one wise guy after another appears on screen, we learn their fate in a very direct way.
Some may feel that this is just another opportunity for Scorsese to get all these old guys back together again, but that’s simply is not the case. THE IRISHMAN is a compelling, fascinating expose of the viciousness of a world most people cannot fathom. This is a brotherhood of killers --- they certainly don’t think twice about carrying out their orders. And according to Sheeran and his confessions, this is particularly true.
He never once hesitates, even when it comes to the demise of his very dear friend, Hoffa --- an order is an order, if you know what’s good for you.
And, as Bufalino is always quick to point out, Hoffa was warned.
It is absolutely wonderful to watch all these actors on screen together. Much has been made about the reverse aging done on De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, but it didn’t bother me. I truly wasn’t paying that much attention because I was so riveted by their performances.
There is no question that De Niro and Pacino are in a world of their own. All De Niro has to do is stop and stare for a moment and we get everything he is thinking. He and Pacino have innumerable memorable scenes together in Hoffa’s various hotel rooms late at night. Their ebb and flow is magical --- two members of acting royalty together as they should be.
And yet it is Pesci who positively blew me away. He is immediately mesmerizing --- from the first time he appears on the screen. It’s an understated, tour-de-force performance from an actor who’s already won one Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He may just get another.
Of course, I love Cannavale --- just can’t get enough of him. And Stephen Graham gives a remarkable portrayal of Anthony Provenzano, one of Hoffa’s detractors. It’s a marvelous cast and obviously who doesn’t want to work with Scorsese?
THE IRISHMAN is a Netflix film. It is in theaters this Friday, then it will begin streaming on Netflix beginning November 27. At three hours and 29 minutes, it’s a little long for the theater. And, it does drag a bit at the end. Scorsese could have edited about 30 minutes without affecting the end product, but if you’re watching it on Netflix, with the luxury of pausing, it won’t make a difference.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
All you really need to know about Martin Scorsese’s latest crime drama, THE IRISHMAN, is that the film will play for one month at New York City’s Belasco Theatre, the first movie to be shown there in the venue’s 112-year history. Of course, part of that is because major movie chains like Regal, AMC and Cinemark do not agree with the Netflix policy of short cinema runs, so they will not be screening THE IRISHMAN. The film is slated for a November 27, 2019 start on Netflix, so you have only weeks to catch this blockbuster on the big screen --- and please do --- it’s incredible, easily one of the best movies of the year.
With a master director behind the scenes, a screenplay by Oscar winner Steven Zaillian (SCHINDLER’S LIST) and a cast for the ages, what’s not to appreciate? If you prefer your crime dramas --- or movies, in general --- in the standard two-hour format, be forewarned that this film is three hours, 29 minutes long. But you also will not be consulting your watch --- although Jeanne may dispute that notion.
I was hanging on virtually every word of dialogue uttered by the likes of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano and Bobby Cannavale. A host of superb supporting players, including Stephen Graham (Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano), Sebastian Maniscalco (“Crazy Joe” Gallo) and Louis Cancelmi (Salvatore "Sally Bugs" Briguglio) contribute mightily to the authenticity of organized crime in the 1970s in New York City, and the story of powerful union boss Jimmy Hoffa.
THE IRISHMAN is certain to be a contender for many Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The acting, particularly by De Niro (Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran), Pacino (Hoffa) and Pesci (Russell Bufalino) defies description. They are all brilliant.
In the case of Pesci, he was reportedly asked over 50 times to come out of retirement --- much at the urging of De Niro --- to play this character. As Bufalino, Pesci is a much quieter, more gentle crime figure than his part in GOODFELLAS, for example, where he was explosive and just plain scary. De Niro, at the center of the film, is shown in flashbacks as the much younger WWII vet Frank Sheeran, delivering fish from a truck. When his truck breaks down it is Bufalino who comes to his rescue.
After a chance meeting in a local mafia hangout, Sheeran and Bufalino develop a very close relationship. It just so happens that Bufalino is on good terms with the notorious president of the Teamsters Union, Jimmy Hoffa. When Bufalino suggests to Frank that he might want to meet Hoffa for a job, a phone “interview” is set up.
Among other things, Hoffa asks Frank if he “paints houses”, a mobster term for a hit man. Frank acknowledges that he is, indeed, a house painter, and adds that he’s his own carpenter. It is this kind of back-and-forth dialogue from Zaillian that it is simply fascinating.
The movie is told from the older Frank’s viewpoint. In fact, we first see Frank in a wheelchair in a nursing home, talking to no one in particular, but recalling vivid memories from his past. Another Scorsese touch shows text superimposed on the screen when a new gangster is introduced. We learn the thug’s identity, the date of his demise, and how he was “whacked”, frequently accompanied by actual, sometimes grisly, photos of the murders.
And what about Hoffa? The immensely popular union head --- at least with his own members --- was last seen in 1975. Hoffa and Tony Pro had a mutual hatred that lasted years. Their prison chat --- Hoffa was in for fraud while Tony Pro was in for extortion --- is as comical as it is riveting. This would seem to make Tony Pro a candidate for getting rid of Hoffa. But Scorsese/Zaillian have their own ideas of what might have occurred. It should be noted that the actor playing Tony Pro --- the aforementioned Stephen Graham --- was Al Capone on TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”. He has a menacing screen presence that is undeniable.
Zaillian’s screenplay is premised on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt. De Niro brought it to the attention of Scorsese, and although Scorsese’s connection to Paramount did not convince the studio execs to greenlight this film, Netflix agreed to a $125 million budget. Now it appears the actual budget is about $159 million, much of that attributable to visual effects needed to make De Niro, Pacino and Pesci look younger in parts of the movie.
However, if I was a Netflix executive, I wouldn’t worry about turning a healthy profit on this picture. Throughout THE IRISHMAN’s lengthy running time lies a constant thread of suspicion, dread and true suspense set within a base of greed and power among killers without conscience. It’s one helluva story.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!