After decades of the idea for "The Irishman" rattling around in the heads of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, the movie is finally here (in theaters Friday and launching on Netflix November 27).
Based on the Charles Brandt book, "I Heard You Paint Houses," the movie takes an epic look at the life of Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro), who before his death admitted to killing Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the charismatic president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who suddenly vanished in 1975.
With a running time close to three and a half hours, the movie is nothing short of an experience.
Scorsese's talents as a storyteller are in full glow here. And De Niro's portrayal of Sheeran over the span of decades is just another reminder that there are few actors on the planet who can captivate an audience quite like he can.
And then there's the technology involved, which made it possible for De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci, who plays mob boss Russell Bufalino, to look decades younger. It brings an added layer to the storytelling, but thankfully it is not overwhelming. In fact, there are some scenes where it's hard to tell if it's the de-aging technology we're looking at or just a good job by the makeup department.
The movie begins with the camera creeping through a retirement home until we come upon an elderly man in a wheelchair. It's Sheeran, living out his final days. He begins to speak about his life. He's not speaking to anyone in particular, though we the audience are hanging on his every word.
After World War II, he became a truck driver, got involved with the mob, and then found a profession that would make him useful for years: hitman.
But Sheeran also had a Forrest Gump-like existence in the mafia, as it seemed he was involved in the biggest mob events from the 1960s and 1970s. From the Bay of Pigs, to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and, of course, Hoffa's rise and disappearance, a lot of history is explored in "The Irishman." In less capable hands, trying to weave all this together would be a mess, but Scorsese is fully in his element.
If you are hoping for a story where De Niro and Pacino interact a lot, you will not be disappointed. The meat of the story is the relationship between Sheeran and Hoffa. It's Sheeran's loyalty to Hoffa that makes it all the more heartbreaking when Sheeran finally has to turn on him. (How it's done, and how Scorsese tells it, will keep you on the edge of your seat, even for those who have read "I Heard You Paint Houses.")
You will find similarities in "The Irishman" to Scorsese's other works. Sheeran's life story is similar to Henry Hill's in "Goodfellas" — though less glamorous. Sheeran is certainly more focused on pleasing the bosses than Hill was. Then there's a scene where Sheeran figures out the guns to use for a hit by spreading them all out on a mattress. It mirrors Travis Bickle buying guns on the black market in "Taxi Driver." And, as with all Scorsese movies, the soundtrack is prevalent.
But there's also a quietness to this movie. There are long sections where no soundtrack or score is used. Some scenes seem to go on for an extra beat. (Perhaps working for Netflix brought even more freedom for Scorsese than he typically gets at a studio.)
De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci give fantastic performances, especially De Niro's work of playing a character from his 40s to his 80s (it's not the first time De Niro has done it, he had a similar task in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America" playing "Noodles" Aaronson). And get ready to be amazed by the acting from character actor Stephen Graham ("Gangs of New York," "Rocketman"). Graham plays Hoffa's rival Anthony Provenzano, or "Tony Pro," and the scenes where they go head-to-head are some of the most memorable in the movie.
And, yes, "The Irishman" will be on Netflix at the end of November. But this is a Martin Scorsese movie. If you can, attempt to see the movie for the first time in theaters. This is the kind of story you want to see on the big screen.
Just don't order the large soda.