The Irishman (2019 film)

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The Irishman
The Irishman poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Scorsese
Produced by
Screenplay bySteven Zaillian
Based onI Heard You Paint Houses
by Charles Brandt
Starring
Music byRobbie Robertson
CinematographyRodrigo Prieto
Edited byThelma Schoonmaker
Production
companies
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • September 27, 2019 (2019-09-27) (NYFF)
  • November 1, 2019 (2019-11-01) (United States)
Running time
209 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$159 million
Box office$2.4 million[2]

The Irishman (titled onscreen as I Heard You Paint Houses) is a 2019 American epic crime film directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian, based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, with Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel in supporting roles. The film follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman and gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

In September 2014, after years of development hell, The Irishman was announced as Scorsese's next film following Silence (2016). De Niro, who also served as producer, and Pacino were confirmed that month, as was Pesci, who came out of his unofficial retirement to star after being asked numerous times to take the role. Principal photography began in September 2017 in New York City and in the Mineola and Williston Park sections of Long Island, and wrapped in March 2018. With a production budget of $159 million and a runtime of 209 minutes, it is one of the most expensive films of Scorsese's career, as well as his longest.

The Irishman had its world premiere at the 57th New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019, and began a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, to be followed by digital streaming on Netflix on November 27, 2019. The film received widespread critical acclaim, with major praise drawn towards Scorsese's direction and the performances of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci.

Plot[edit]

Sitting in a nursing home in his wheelchair, the aging Frank Sheeran, a World War II veteran, recounts his time as a mafia hitman.

In 1950s Pennsylvania, Sheeran drives meat packing delivery trucks and starts to sell some of the contents of his shipments to a local gangster. After getting accused by his company of theft, lawyer Bill Bufalino gets him off after Sheeran refuses to give the judge any names of who he was selling to. Bufalino introduces Sheeran to his cousin Russell, the head of the northeast Pennsylvania crime family. Sheeran begins to do jobs for Russell, including murders. Soon, Russell introduces Sheeran to Jimmy Hoffa, the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who has financial ties with the Bufalino crime family and is struggling to deal with fellow rising Teamster Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, as well as mounting pressure from the federal government. Hoffa becomes close with Sheeran and his family, especially his daughter Peggy, and Sheeran becomes Hoffa's main bodyguard while he is on the road.

Following the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, Bufalino is thrilled while Hoffa is livid. Kennedy's brother Robert Kennedy, who was named Attorney General, forms a "Get Hoffa" squad in an effort to bring down Hoffa, who is eventually arrested in 1964 for jury tampering. While in prison, his replacement atop the Teamsters Frank Fitzsimmons begins overspending the groups' funds and making loans out to the mafia. Hoffa's relationship with Provenzano, who was himself arrested for extortion, also deteriorates beyond repair. Hoffa is eventually released via a Presidential pardon from Richard Nixon in 1971, although he is forbidden from taking part in any Teamsters activities until 1980.

Despite this, Hoffa begins his plan to retake his power atop the organized unions. Hoffa's growing disrespect for other Teamster leaders and related crime family interests begins to worry Bufalino. During a testimonial dinner in Sheeran's honor, Bufalino tells Sheeran to confront Hoffa and warn him that the heads of the crime families are not pleased with his behavior. Hoffa then discloses to Sheeran that he knows what Bufalino and the other dons don't know, and further claims that he is untouchable because if anything ever happened to him, they would all end up in prison.

In 1975, while on their way to the wedding of Bill Bufalino's daughter, Russell tells Sheeran that things have reached their breaking point with Hoffa, and his death has been sanctioned. The two drive to an airport where Sheeran gets on a flight to Detroit. Sheeran tells Hoffa he will be in town early in the day, but arrives only late afternoon. Hoffa, who had scheduled a meeting at a local diner with Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone, is surprised to see Sheeran arriving in a car with Hoffa's foster son Chuckie O'Brien and Sal Briguglio, another gangster. They advise Hoffa that the meeting was moved to a house where Provenzano and Bufalino are waiting for them. Sheeran assures Hoffa that everything is fine and joins them in the car. Upon entering the house, Hoffa is surprised to realize that no one else is there and that he is being set up. Hoffa turns to caution Sheeran, who then shoots him twice at point-blank range before leaving the gun and the body at the entrance. Two younger gangsters, seen when Sheeran first passed by the house before picking up Hoffa, take Hoffa's body to a crematorium to eliminate all traces of him.

Sheeran, Russell, Provenzano and others are eventually convicted on various charges unrelated to Hoffa's murder as promised by Hoffa, and one by one they begin to die in prison. Sheeran is eventually released and placed in a retirement home. He tries to make peace with his alienated daughters, but Peggy never forgives him for Hoffa's disappearance. Sheeran prepares for his eventual death, well aware that few if any of his family will be left to mourn him.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Martin Scorsese, director and producer of the film

Robert De Niro "got the project underway" after reading a copy of the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses written by Charles Brandt,[3] with Martin Scorsese saying that De Niro "became rather emotional" as he told him about the lead character.[4] Scorsese then became interested in directing a film adaptation of the book and in casting De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.[5] The film started its development phase in 2007.[6][7] New plot materials and rewrites caused the movie to lose its place in the film release calendar, and Scorsese went on to direct three more films, Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Silence (2016), before returning to The Irishman.[8] In September 2014, after years of development hell,[6] Pacino confirmed that the film would be Scorsese's next project after Silence.[9] In October 2015, De Niro stated that the film was still happening and could start filming in 2016 and Steven Zaillian was confirmed as screenwriter.[10][11]

In July 2017, it was reported that the film would be presented as a series of flashbacks of an older Frank Sheeran, depicted as recollecting his many criminal activities over several decades,[12] with De Niro appearing "as young as 24 years and as old as 80."[13] Producer Irwin Winkler defined the project as "the coming together of people that have worked together since we're kids together,"[14] while Rosenthal said that "what will surprise you is, as a Scorsese movie, it is a slower movie [...] it is guys looking at themselves through an older perspective."[7]

Writing[edit]

In July 2009, Brandt received a phone call from De Niro that led to a meeting a month later between the two of them, Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian.[8] The meeting was supposed to last an hour but ended up lasting four hours. Brandt said that "the material was new to them" and Zaillian already had a script ready, but the additions Brandt made required a do-over. To help, Brandt handed over a screenplay of his own. Brandt said, "Zaillian is a great writer, don't get me wrong [...] I wanted to log the material."[8] In the opening credits and as a reflection of the writing adaptation process, the final film is titled I Heard You Paint Houses, the name of the novel on which the picture is based, while the title The Irishman only appears in the end credits.[15]

The truthfulness of Sheeran's supposed confessions and the book on which the film was based have been discredited by "The Lies of the Irishman", an article on Slate by Bill Tonelli,[16] and by "Jimmy Hoffa and The Irishman: A True Crime Story?" by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith, which appeared in The New York Review of Books.[17] In defense of the writing process of the film, in an interview De Niro has stated, "we're not saying we're telling the actual story [...] we're telling our story."[18]

Casting[edit]

In July 2017, Pacino and Pesci officially joined the cast, with Ray Romano also joining and Bobby Cannavale and Harvey Keitel in final negotiations.[9] Pesci was offered his role a reported 50 times before agreeing to take part, at first saying he didn't want to do "the gangster thing again," while Scorsese tried to persuade him The Irishman would be "different."[4] De Niro played a big part in convincing Pesci to take the role, telling him "We gotta do this. Who knows if there'll be anything after?"[19] In September 2017, Jack Huston,[20] Stephen Graham,[21] Domenick Lombardozzi, Jeremy Luke, Joseph Russo,[22] Kathrine Narducci,[23] Danny Abeckaser,[24] J. C. MacKenzie, and Craig Vincent[25] joined the cast. In October, Gary Basaraba,[26] Anna Paquin,[27] Welker White,[28] and Jesse Plemons joined the cast of the film. Later, Craig Di Francia and Action Bronson were revealed to have joined the cast.[29][30] Sebastian Maniscalco and Paul Ben-Victor were later revealed as being part of the cast.[31][32]

The Irishman is the ninth feature collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese and their first since 1995's Casino; the fourth film to star both De Niro and Pacino (following The Godfather Part II, Heat, and Righteous Kill); the seventh to star both De Niro and Pesci (following Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale, Casino, and The Good Shepherd); the first to star both Pacino and Pesci; and the first time Pacino has been directed by Scorsese. Scorsese said of finally working with Pacino, "I'd been wanting to work with Al for years. Francis Coppola introduced me to him in 1970. Then he's in The Godfather one and two, and he's in the stratosphere. For me, Al was always something unreachable. We even tried to make a film in the 1980s but couldn't get the financing for it. I said, 'What's he like to work with?' Bob [De Niro] said, 'Oh, he's great. You'll see.'" Scorsese added that there is a meta aspect to seeing Pacino and De Niro interact in The Irishman, saying, "What you see in the film is their relationship as actors, as friends, over the past 40, 45 years. There's something magical that happens there."[33]

Filming[edit]

Filming was originally set to start in August 2017, in and around New York City,[34][35] and would continue through December 2017.[36][37] Principal photography ended up beginning on September 18, 2017 in New York City and in the Mineola and Williston Park sections of Long Island,[38][39][40] and wrapped on March 5, 2018, for a total of 108 shooting days.[41][19] Additional scenes were filmed in the Hudson Valley in Salisbury Mills and Suffern among other sites.[42][43] A posture coach was brought on set to offer tips to De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci on how to comport themselves like much younger men.[19] The picture was shot on 35 mm movie film over 117 different locations, for a total of 319 scenes.[44][19]

Visual effects[edit]

There's a great deal of CGI because we're doing this youthification of De Niro, Pesci, and Al Pacino. They had to be CGI [...] Why I'm concerned, we're all concerned is that we're so used to watching them as the older faces. When we put them all together, it cuts back and forth [...] Now, it's real. Now, I'm seeing it. Now, certain shots need more work on the eyes, need more work on why these exactly the same eyes from the plate shot, but the wrinkles and things have changed. Does it change the eyes at all? If that's the case, what was in the eyes that I liked? Was it intensity? Was it gravitas? Was it threat?

Martin Scorsese speaking on The A24 Podcast on May 15, 2019.[44]

Industrial Light & Magic and visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman handled the effects for the film.[45] In August 2015, Scorsese and De Niro made a test reel by recreating a scene from Goodfellas (1990), to see if the de-aging could work. Scorsese said that "the risk was there, and that was it. We just tried to make the film. After sitting on the couch for ten years [...] we finally had a way."[13] In March 2018, speaking about the de-aging process, Pacino told IndieWire: "I was playing Jimmy Hoffa at the age of 39, they're doing that on a computer [...] we went through all these tests and things [...] someone would come up to me and say, 'You're 39.' [You'd recall] some sort of memory of 39, and your body tries to acclimate to that and think that way. They remind you of it."[46]

Financing and budget[edit]

In May 2016, Mexican production company Fábrica de Cine had offered $100 million to finance the film, and through that deal Paramount Pictures would retain domestic rights.[47] IM Global was also circling to bid for the film's international sales rights.[47] STX Entertainment bought the international distribution rights to the film for $50 million beating out other studios like Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Lionsgate, while Fábrica de Cine closed the deal and Paramount retained its domestic rights.[48][49]

By February 2017, Paramount Pictures had dropped domestic distribution rights for The Irishman following the announcement that Fábrica de Cine would not be financing the film due to its climbing budget. Netflix then bought the film rights for $105 million and agreed to finance the film's $125 million budget with a projected release date of October 2019.[50][51] In March 2018, it was also reported the film's budget had ballooned from $125 million to $140 million, due in large part to the visual effects needed to make De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci appear younger at various points throughout the film.[52] By August of that year, speculation had arisen that the cost had reportedly risen to as much as $175 million by the time post-production was to have wrapped, and some publications asserted that it might go as high as $200 million.[53][54] In August 2019, it was reported that the film's official cost was $159 million.[55][56]

Soundtrack[edit]

The Irishman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by
Various artists
ReleasedNovember 8, 2019 (2019-11-08)
(Digital download)
Length60:13
LabelSony Music

Canadian musician Robbie Robertson and music supervisor Randall Poster compiled the soundtrack.[57][58] It features both original and existing music tracks.[58] Speaking to Rolling Stone, Robertson said, "this is probably the tenth film I've worked on with Marty [Scorsese], and every time we do it, it's a whole new experience [...] the music score for The Irishman was an unusual feat. We were trying to discover a sound, a mood, a feel, that could work, over the many decades that this story takes place."[58] Robertson also wrote the score for the film, although only his "Theme for the Irishman" appears on the soundtrack.[58]

The Irishman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
No.TitleArtist(s)Length
1."In the Still of the Night"The Five Satins3:05
2."Tuxedo Junction"Glenn Miller and His Orchestra3:26
3."I Hear You Knockin'"Smiley Lewis2:45
4."The Fat Man"Fats Domino2:36
5."El Negro Zumbón" (from the motion picture Anna)Flo Sandon's2:29
6."Le Grisbi"Jean Wetzel3:26
7."Delicado"Percy Faith and His Orchestra2:53
8."Have I Sinned"Donnie Elbert2:59
9."Theme for the Irishman"Robbie Robertson4:36
10."Song of the Barefoot Contessa"Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra2:39
11."A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)"Marty Robbins (feat. Ray Conniff)2:31
12."Canadian Sunset" (Single Version)Eddie Heywood & Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra2:55
13."Honky Tonk, Pt. 1"Bill Doggett3:05
14."Melancholy Serenade"Jackie Gleason3:15
15."Qué Rico el Mambo"Pérez Prado3:58
16."Cry"Johnnie Ray & The Four Lads3:04
17."Sleep Walk"Santo & Johnny2:27
18."The Time Is Now"The Golddiggers2:03
19."Al di là"Jerry Vale & The Latin Casino All Stars3:18
20."Pretend You Don't See Her"The Latin Casino All Stars2:42
Total length:60:13

Release[edit]

The Irishman had its world premiere at the 57th New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019,[59] and received a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, followed by digital streaming on Netflix on November 27, 2019.[60]

The Irishman's international premiere was at the Closing Night Gala of the BFI London Film Festival on October 13, 2019. The festival's director Tricia Tuttle said it was an "immense cinephile thrill" to close the event with an "epic of breathtakingly audacious scale and complexity" from "one of the true greats of cinema."[61] The film also had screenings at the following film festivals: Mill Valley,[62][63] Hamptons,[64] Lumière,[65] San Diego,[66] Mumbai,[67] Rome,[68] Philadelphia,[69] Chicago,[70] Tokyo,[71] Camerimage,[72] Los Cabos,[73] Mar del Plata,[74] and Cairo.[75] Additionally, from November 1 to December 1, 2019, The Irishman will screen at the Belasco Theatre in New York City, making it the first film to ever screen in the Belasco's 112-year history.[76]

Protest[edit]

As part of the continuing tensions between the film markets for direct to digital streaming and theatrical releases and distribution of films, several theater chains protested the policy of Netflix for the release of Scorsese's The Irishman. The film will not play at the theaters owned by AMC, Cinemark, Regal or Cineplex, because the "four week progression to SVOD remains unacceptable to those chains."[60] It was previously reported in February 2019 that Netflix would possibly give the film a wide theatrical release, at the request of Scorsese.[77] The heads of several theater chains, including AMC's Adam Aron, who refused to play Roma the previous November, said they would only be open to playing The Irishman if Netflix "respects the decades old theatrical window, that suggests that movies come to theaters first for a couple of months, and then go to the home."[78] Two major chains offered to exhibit the film if given an exclusivity window of 60 days, approximately two weeks shorter than the typical window, but could not reach an agreement with Netflix.[79]

Marketing[edit]

The announcement trailer for the film premiered during the 91st Academy Awards ceremony on February 24, 2019.[80] Netflix then released a teaser trailer on July 31, 2019,[81] while the official trailer debuted on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on September 25, 2019.[82] The final trailer was released on November 19, 2019.[83]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

The Irishman opened at three theaters in New York City and five in Los Angeles on November 1, 2019;[84] while Netflix does not publicly disclose box office figures for its films, IndieWire estimated that it grossed a "strong" $350,000 in its opening weekend, an average $43,750 per venue.[85] Deadline noted that numerous showtimes at several theaters, including Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles and the IFC Center in New York, had sold-out showings. The website also argued that had the film gone wide theatrically it likely would have become a box office bomb given its 209-minute runtime and large budget, noting another period-setting crime film with a long runtime that opened the same weekend, Motherless Brooklyn, failed to meet its projections.[86] Conversely, CNBC wrote that Netflix was "leaving millions on the table" by not giving the film a wide theatrical release, and claimed it could have legged out to at least $100 million at the domestic box office, citing the high demand for tickets during its opening weekend (with some reselling for $65–85) and that Scorsese's last gangster film, The Departed, made $132 million in 2006.[87]

Expanding to 22 theaters in its second weekend, the film made an estimated $440,000, for a ten-day running total of about $940,000,[88] and then an estimated $1.25 million from 175 theaters in its third week.[2] As of November 17, 2019, The Irishman has grossed an estimated $2.4 million in North America.[2]

Critical response[edit]

The performances of (left to right) Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci garnered critical acclaim.

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 96% based on 253 reviews, with an average rating of 8.96/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "An epic gangster drama that earns its extended runtime, The Irishman finds Martin Scorsese revisiting familiar themes to poignant, funny, and profound effect."[89] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 94 out of 100 based on 51 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[90]

Writing for TIME, Stephanie Zacharek gave The Irishman a perfect score, calling the film "clever and entertaining, to the point where you may think that's all it's going to be" and that "its last half-hour is deeply moving in a way that creeps up on you, and it's then that you see what Scorsese was working toward all along"; she also added that "the de-aging is distracting at first [...] but the special effects are hardly a deal breaker, and in the end they probably add to the movie's mythological vibe."[91] Similarly, Owen Gleiberman of Variety called it "a coldly enthralling, long-form knockout — a majestic Mob epic with ice in its veins", particularly praising Pacino's performance as "the film's most extraordinary."[92] RogerEbert.com's Matt Zoller Seitz gave the film three and half stars out of four, defining Scorsese "one of the greatest living, though still largely unsung, comedy directors" and also praised the editing of Thelma Schoonmaker.[93]

Benjamin Lee of The Guardian wrote that in the film "there's an almost meta-maturity, as if Scorsese is also looking back on his own career, the film leaving us with a haunting reminder not to glamorise violent men and the wreckage they leave behind."[94] Mike Ryan of Uproxx called it a "phenomenal film", stating that the de-aging is "pretty good" and "the best I've seen so far", but noted that "if you stare at it, yes, you can see the imperfections [...] but you do get used to it",[95] while Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post wrote that the film has "a different tone than your average gangster film" and that "Scorsese is at the top of his game [...] his film is never boring, and it explores some unexpectedly deep themes for mafiosos."[96] IndieWire's Eric Kohn stated that "The Irishman is Martin Scorsese's best crime movie since Goodfellas, and a pure, unbridled illustration of what has made his filmmaking voice so distinctive for nearly 50 years", reserving particular praise to Steven Zaillian's screenplay, writing that "Zaillian hasn't delivered a script this polished since Moneyball."[97] David Edelstein wrote for Vulture that "Pesci [...] plays Bufalino as almost supernaturally focused and watchful, always hypersensitive to other peoples' rhythms [...] I thank the gods of acting that he came out of retirement to do this." He also praised the performances of De Niro and Pacino, stating that The Irishman is one of Scorsese's "most satisfying films in decades."[98] Writing for TheWrap, Alonso Duralde praised Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography and Scorsese's direction, writing that "at the age of 76, Scorsese is embracing new technologies with the fervor of Ang Lee [...] and indulging in retro fantasy with the keen eye of Quentin Tarantino."[99]

While giving a positive review, David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter criticized the runtime, stating that "the excessive length ultimately is a weakness" and "that the material would have been better served by losing an hour or more to run at standard feature length."[100] Writing for the National Review, Kyle Smith gave a more critical review, saying that "while it's a good film, it isn't a great one" and also commented that "[The Irishman] could easily be trimmed by 30 minutes or more by tightening up the midsection."[101] Conversely, Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote "it runs a minute shy of three and a half hours, and I wouldn't wish it any shorter",[102] and Karen Han of Polygon said that "Scorsese is so adept at storytelling, and his cast is so unbelievable, that the film [...] barely feels its length."[103]

Industry response[edit]

The Irishman generated acclaim from contemporary filmmakers. Guillermo del Toro, commenting on the film on his Twitter account, compared it to Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon and praised the performances of De Niro, Pacino and, especially, Pesci, calling him "supremely minimalistic" and "masterful" and he went on to define The Irishman as a "masterpiece" and "the perfect corollary [to] Goodfellas and Casino."[104] Edgar Wright wrote, "The Irishman [...] feels like a riposte to the imitators of Goodfellas who revel only in the parts about the 'glamour' of the business. This film coldly makes the point that this way of life leads only to death, inside and out."[105] Ava DuVernay also praised the film, writing: "running time is 3 hours and some change. For me, it flew by [...] A film made by a filmmaker who feels free. Who has all the tools. All the time. All the talent. And lives up to it. Wow."[104]

Leonardo DiCaprio, a frequent Scorsese collaborator, spoke about the film at the 2019 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, saying, "It plays like an elegy. It's a movie about looking upon what you've left behind and squaring up with all of it, but for me, what's more astounding about this film, in my mind, Marty [Scorsese] transcends his own signature genre and creates a film that methodically transforms itself into an exploration of our very own universally shared mortality. The film is absolutely breathtaking."[106]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
Camerimage November 16, 2019 Golden Frog Rodrigo Prieto Nominated [107]
Chicago International Film Festival October 25, 2019 Founder's Award Martin Scorsese Won [108]
Golden Trailer Awards May 29, 2019 Best Motion/Title Graphics "Shell", Netflix, Open Road Won [109]
Best Graphics in a TV Spot (for a Feature Film) Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards November 3, 2019 Hollywood Supporting Actor Award Al Pacino Won [110]
Hollywood Producer Award Emma Tillinger Koskoff Won
Hollywood Visual Effects Award Pablo Helman Won
Make-Up Artists And Hair Stylists Guild Awards January 11, 2020 Best Special Make-Up Effects in a Feature-Length Motion Picture Mike Marino, Mike Fontaine, Carla White Pending [111]

References[edit]

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