by SOPHIA SAKELLARIOU, Production Editor
Director Martin Scorsese is well-known for his period piece dramas on the glamourous yet harsh realities of mob life, often drawing on real-life stories for inspiration. His most recent film, “The Irishman,” has been in the works for years with over 300 scenes filmed. However, this three-hour and thirty minute film was well worth the wait, culminating in an evocative masterpiece that is full of Scorsese’s signature trademarks.
Based off of Charles Brandt’s book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the film follows the life of Philadelphia truck driver Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. The Irishman, played by Robert DeNiro, was a working man who grew up around Philadelphia. His roughhouse father toughened him from a young age and his grave front only grew stronger when he served as a soldier in WWII, with an incredulous 411 days spent in combat by the time the war ended. When Sheeran returned to Pennsylvania he joined the Teamsters, the truck driver union, and that’s when his mob involvement began.
The film opens with Sheeran in a nursing home. A continuous long shot brings the viewer through the nursing home as if they themselves are walking its halls. Long tracking shots are a trademark of Scorsese’s films, the most notable being the Copacabana scene in Goodfellas, one of his most renowned films. The film then jumps to the day that changed everything— the wedding day of Bill Bufalino’s daughter. As the film goes on, Scorsese eloquently brings the viewer back in time to various periods of Sheeran’s life, but always returns to this day.
The first flashback shows Sheeran driving a truck full of meat to be delivered. The truck breaks down and is helped out by Russell Bufalino, “the quiet don” among the Sicilian-born American mafia heads, played by Joe Pesci. Special effects were used to make DeNiro and Pesci look younger. This technology was a big contributor to the films’ high budget and long post-production process, but was well executed.
Bufalino took a liking to The Irishman and introduced him to many other mob bosses including Joe Galla, played by Bobby Cannavale, and the Irishman’s career in the world of organized crime took off. As Sheeran got well acquainted with the mob he was introduced to the president of The Teamsters Union, Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino.
The title of this book comes from the first phone call exchange between the two. “I heard you paint houses,” were the first words Hoffa said to The Irishman to which he replied, “I do my own carpentry work, too.” In translation; painting houses refers to killing people as the blood from a gunshot wound “paints” walls, and the carpentry refers to taking care of the mess.
From this point on, The Irishman performs a lot of odd jobs for Hoffa from executing a number of hits to undercutting the competition. One scene of DeNiro and his co-conspirators pushing four taxis into a river offers some insight into why the budget of the film was so high, and production such a strenuous process.
This is the first film Scorsese has done with Pacino, but I think this casting choice was the wrong choice. Although a brilliant actor who has certainly played his part in the mob circuit (think “The Godfather”), he was not the right fit for this character. Hoffa was a short, and short-tempered, Irish-American who didn’t hold back from shouting ethnic slurs at the Italian mafiosos when things didn’t go his way. Coming from Pacino, an Italian, the delivery of these lines seemed wrong.
As each new mob member is introduced in the film, Scorsese uses title cards detailing who they are and how they died, or in most cases, how they were killed. Title cards are a trademark of Scorsese films, seen in Raging Bull and Goodfellas, and they serve to create a documentary feel in the film. In “The Irishman,” they serve to remind the viewer that the mob life may look glamorous, but in six years this guy gets shot in the head three times by this guy, and there’s nothing glamorous about that.
Many of Scorsese’s films are so evocative for the empathy they generate. In Taxi Driver, DeNiro plays a disturbed loner, but his attitude towards rescuing Jodie Foster’s young character shows the viewer that he is a good guy. “The Irishman” paints a similar picture of Sheeran, as his strained relationship with his daughter Peggy creates the same level of emotion, pulling at the viewer’s heart strings.
The book only briefly mentions Sheeran’s regrets when it came to his relationships with his four daughters, but Scorsese made it a point to follow one of them from her youth to her adulthood. This close look at the strained relationship between father and daughter evokes a deep sense of empathy for Sheeran. Even though he did many bad things in his life, the viewer can’t help but feel bad for the dying old man who’s all alone in a nursing home on Christmas. And that is the magic of Scorsese.
“The Irishman,” will be available to stream on Netflix on Nov. 27.