Is ‘The Irishman’ Scorsese’s Longest Film? Some might hate it but here is a little bit of truth about the Irishman, against the 8s and the 9s and the 10s: It is a “Too long didn’t read” kind of movie. What is the reason of this enormous more-than-three-hours runtime?
In the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran gets involved with Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa — a powerful Teamster tied to organized crime.
The Irishman (2019)
It’s hard to nail down what the greatest gangster movie of all time is but Goodfellas and the Godfather Parts I and I are surely a good shout. The second Godfather film included both Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, both never on the screen together, what with De Niro depicting the younger days of Don Vito Corleone. When Michael Mann put Pacino and DeNiro together in Heat (1995), the result was one of the best crime dramas that I have ever seen with two Hollywood greats engaged in a game of cat and mouse. I never envisaged another collaboration between the two actors but was intrigued when I first learned about The Irishman. Martin Scorsese, director of the likes of Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, took on the project which spent years struggling in development before filming finally began. I knew little about the film other than the cast and numerous jokes about its run-time.
Based on the 2004 book, I Heard You Paint Houses, by Charles Brandt, The Irishman tells the true story of Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), the Irishman of the title. The story begins with an elderly Sheeran in a nursing home where he recounts his younger days of affiliations with the mafia. Set in Philadelphia in the 1950s, Sheeran is a family man that works as a delivery truck driver for his union. After escaping charges for theft, Sheeran becomes acquainted with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) head of the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family and begins working for him with a series of jobs that include “painting houses”, which is a – pardon the expression – colourful mafia phrase for contract killing. Earning well and impressing the Bufalino family, Sheeran is soon introduced to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a powerful labour union. Hoffa has financial ties with the Bufalino family and he and Sheeran soon become close friends.
Those familiar with the story of Jimmy Hoffa will already have some background to The Irishman at hand. I won’t go into detail here for the benefit of those that may not know the history. First of all, The Irishman is a long film, clocking in at just over 3½ hours so immediately this one is not for the faint hearted. Despite its length, it honestly doesn’t feel like you are sat for that long as the story unfolds. Scorsese’s film is carefully edited and tightened up, each scene relevant and none of it seeming or feeling like unnecessary filler. The film boasts a superb cast with Pacinio, DeNiro and Pesci supported by the likes of Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin and Stephen Graham, to name just a few. It is the three leading actors though that demand our attention. You feel like Robert DeNiro could do these roles in his sleep, such is the effortless way he brings Frank Sheeran to life on screen here. Al Pacino is always worth your time and here he offers the tough, charismatic and impulsive Jimmy Hoffa, one that dominates a room and divides his critics. Joe Pesci, coaxed out of years of retirement by Scorsese, is also excellent here, his Bufalino appearing calm in contrast to his hot headed Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas, but both characters are unpredictable and equally deadly if provoked. The film isn’t as violent as The Godfather or Goodfellas, opting for the clandestine movement of contract killing, the surreptitious discussions between the mafia bosses and their workers; it’s all very cloak and dagger which adds to the suspense. There are some questions over the authenticity of some of the story that The Irishman depicts here but that is down not to Scorsese but to Frank Sheeran’s own testimony. Fact or fiction, what we have on offer here is an epic but fascinating depiction of greed and corruption in 1950s/1960s America, its players and those caught in the crossfire.
Verdict: An intimidatingly epic movie but one that never fails to grip and hold one’s attention.