The beginning of the compelling and engrossing movie “The Irishman,” opens with a long tracking shot, through an assisted living facility, as the 1956 song “In the Still of the Night” by “The Five Satins” plays, before the camera focuses in on the narrator of the story. Frank Sheeran is the man who will be telling the viewer his life story. He is an elderly man, with white hair, what’s left of it anyway, and is wheelchair bound. Sheeran is portrayed by two time Oscar winner Robert De Niro (The Godfather: Part II), who gives a memorable performance. During the course of Sheeran’s life, “The Irishman” as he was called, was: a World War II combat veteran; a union truck driver; a hired gun for the Philadelphia Mafia; a union leader; as well as a close friend of Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa. If Frank can be believed, he has firsthand knowledge of, and was involved in, several assassinations, that have confounded conspiracy theorists for decades.
The movie covers several decades. In the beginning, Frank, as he puts it, was just another working stiff. He lives in Philadelphia, and works as a meat truck driver. He’s an exemplary employee, who hasn’t missed a day of work in over eight years, but he’s yearning for more out of life. Frank is always looking to make extra money, or make inroads toward impressing the right people. When he meets a Philadelphia mobster, Skinny Razor, played by two time Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire), he wants not only to make money, but impress the gangster. The first thing Frank does, is make sure a few sides of beef disappear off his truck, and are delivered to Skinny. Next, Frank makes sure that an entire shipment of meat goes undelivered. After the whole shipment of beef disappears, Frank is hauled into court by his employer. When Frank is questioned by his lawyer, he refuses to give names of his accomplices, in order to potentially save his job. By keeping his mouth shut, Frank not only beats the case, but he impresses the powers that be, that he’s someone who can be trusted.
Frank is introduced by his lawyer Bill Bufalino, played by three time Emmy winner Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), to Philadelphia Mafia power broker Russell Bufalino, portrayed by Oscar winner Joe Pesci (Goodfellas). Ironically, Frank and Russell had already met when Frank’s truck broke down, and Russell helped him fix it. Russell takes an instant liking to Frank, and begins to give him jobs to do. In turn, Russell’s boss, the head of the Philadelphia Mafia, Angelo Bruno, a role acted by Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs), also utilizes Frank’s services. Time and again, Frank demonstrates that he is a loyal soldier, who is not afraid to do what needs to be done at the behest of his employers. One of the most important tasks Frank is given, is to protect former Teamster president, Jimmy Hoffa. In the film, the role of Hoffa is played spot on by Oscar winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman). The two become friends and seem to genuinely care for one another. The movie asks, among other things, the question: Can someone like Frank, who kills seemingly without remorse, truly care about anyone?
People going into the film expecting another “Goodfellas” will be in for a disappointment. Unlike the movie’s predecessor, “The Irishman” never showcases any of the so called glitz and glamour of the mafia lifestyle. Frank isn’t out running around with a different woman every evening. He’s a married man, once divorced; the father of four daughters, one of whom, Peggy, is played, as an adult, by Oscar winner Anna Paquin (The Piano). She’s perhaps the one person Frank would be honest with, and whom he might truly love, and would never hurt, but she’s also the one person, who wants nothing to do with him. She learned early on what kind of man he is, and she’s never forgiven him for his lifestyle.
The movie had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019. On November 27th it was released worldwide on Netflix streaming services. Comprised of the genres of biography, crime, and drama, the movie has a runtime of 209 minutes. Directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese (The Departed), the movie was adapted by Oscar winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) from the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” written by former private investigator turned author, Charles Brandt. The cinematography by two time Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street) is outstanding, so too, is the wonderful editing by three time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker (Raging Bull), which effortlessly transitions between distinct time periods. Furthermore, the mix of existing music, from a variety of artists, as well as an original score composed by two time Emmy nominee Robbie Robertson (The Color of Money) helps to set the right mood for what is transpiring on screen.
What might at first come across as yet another picture about life in the mafia is not the case with this movie. There are, of course, numerous elements, for example, betrayals and murders, found in most, if not all, mob themed films, but “The Irishman” expands beyond the usual. For movie fans, the cast is a dream come true, and better late than never. For fans of Scorsese, this is a must see. The director, in my opinion, still hasn’t lost a step, and this is yet another gem in his illustrious filmmaking career.