Clocking in at a whopping three hours and 29 minutes (including the end credits), Netflix’s The Irishman is a marathon, but there’s hardly a moment when you start fidgeting and looking at your watch; the film is captivating from the opening scene to the last.
Besides its merits as a movie, The Irishman is notable for many other reasons. It’s been in the works for years, and was well worth the wait. The much-anticipated union between director Martin Scorsese and his trio of veteran actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci marks the first time all four have worked together, but given their individual and collective careers, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve done this a million times. Watching them on screen, and the ease with which they carry out their roles, further cements that notion.
And to think, Pesci didn’t want to be part of it at first. It took many calls and much convincing to lure him out of retirement, and what a joy he is.
Will The Irishman satisfy Scorsese fans?
The Irishman is a thing of beauty, a Scorsese masterclass – from style and substance to the cinematography and music. Supporting the stars (and here you’ll gain a deeper understanding of exactly what this moniker means) is a cast that includes Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel and Anna Paquin.
If you’re as much of a fan of Marty’s movies – Goodfellas and Casino are my all-time favourites – as I am, The Irishman will fit you like a familiar glove, one which you’ll wish to draw onto your hand again and again. There is something so comforting about it that transports you right back into the mood of these classics. It’s old but it’s new at the same time; a pure treat.
How did they get the actors to age in reverse?
On the subject of old, The Irishman has received a lot of press about the technical reverse-ageing technology it has employed. Because the story takes place over a span of several decades, the actors had to be able to portray their characters convincingly at different ages. Make-up can only do so much, and as I think we all know, it works fine to make someone look older, but getting them back to their younger selves is more of a challenge. Enter the special effects.
“The film takes place between 1949 and 2000, it goes back and forth through time continuously,” Scorsese notes in a featurette. “Bob played everything from that perspective.”
It’s a little bit weird to watch at first, because it’s really that good. De Niro and Pesci are both 76 years old in real life, and Pacino is 79. Seeing them again at half that age is vaguely unsettling but once you lean into it, it becomes that background magic that is part of modern filmmaking.
Jimmy Hoffa was bigger than Elvis in the 1950s, bigger than the Beatles in the 60s.
Who are the real-life mobsters who inspired the movie?
The Irishman is based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses, a work of narrative nonfiction by former homicide prosecutor, investigator and defence attorney Charles Brandt. It chronicles the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), an alleged mafia hitman who confesses to the crimes he committed working for the Bufalino crime family.
In the 1950s, WWII vet and truck driver Frank gets involved with Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), a powerful Teamster tied to organised crime.
When Hoffa makes his first appearance, Frank introduces him by saying the kids of today have no idea how big he was. Sure, they might know he disappeared mysteriously on 30 July 1975, but that’s about it. He was, says Frank, bigger than Elvis in the 1950s, bigger than the Beatles in the 60s.
Hoffa was officially declared dead on 30 July 1982, seven years to the day after he disappeared, but what really happened to him remains a mystery to this day. The Irishman presents what might have happened.