Today is not the day to ramble about originality and the lack of it in Hollywood. Most films in Hollywood you see today are novels adaptation such as this movie, or live-action remakings of cartoons, or new perspectives of a marvel character, or like this one inspired by a work of journalism, or sequel/spin-off, etc. But no one can really accuse Hollywood filmmakers of lack of imagination – each time, they discover new ways to get films made without being in a position where they have to come up with an original idea. “The Irishman” is based on a non-fiction book about mob gangsters, unionism, and crime.
The book centers around the supposed resolving of a mystery of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, the truck union boss during Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon days who disappeared and was never found. A convicted felon Frank Sheeren in a nursing home claimed he killed Hoffa and got rid of the body. A detailed article in the Slate has been published where seasoned journalists who covered the mob and union gangs and FBI agents familiar with the case dismissed Frank Sheeren claims as a lie. Well, Frank Sheeren was the last link in the chain that sees this film made. It may be a lie, the whole film, but I don’t care. Was it a good movie? Yes, it is and this is the superseding issue for me. Today is not the day to spend precious time on politics. Not after watching a 3-and-a-half hours film.
Fifteen years in the making
It took Martin Scorsese fifteen years to make “The Irishman”. Charles Brandt published “I Heard You Paint Houses” in 2004. Robert De Niro read the book and saw Frank in himself. He contacted his old buddy Martin Scorsese who became interested in directing the show. But there was a problem. De Niro was in his sixties then and the bulk of the story took plack when Frank was in his forties and fifties and concluded in his 80s. They needed a de-aging technology to get the main characters to play all the stages of their ages in hyperrealistic fashion. To do this, they needed money the kind that is not always available for crime films.
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Scorsese took the project to Netflix. The money problem and scheduling conflicts for Martins kept the film from the set till 2018. The film was eventually made with up to 170 million dollars. And I would say every cent showed in its virtual effects. The characters’ numerous ages were near-perfect. And as the plot isn’t in a linear fashion, we had to judge the timeline by the age of the characters. This is a little trying because you cannot always tell between someone’s late fifties and early to mid-sixties and you will have to guess.
Thanks to Netflix, we will never know the real value viewers would have attached to this film. It made small theatrical rounds after it had already been seen on Netflix. In all, it made seven million dollars in the box office. We cannot tell how much it would make them on Netflix. But we can tell that this is a movie that will be mentioned many times during the Academy Awards. You can say it was worth the wait.
The Irishman Review: How many seconds count?
I watched in two or three installments. The nature of my job does not afford me the luxury of sitting down and watching a movie in a three-hour-plus marathon. At the very beginning, when I saw two old couples in a car embarking in what would be a long, boring journey. I looked at the time progress bar which had barely made a dent and made a mental note to beach (not typo) about the length of the film.
But the more I watched the film, the more I pushed the thought of beaching about the length out of my mind. There was the scene about Frank Sheeren played by Robert de Niro who was also a producer in the film during World War II: he stands with his rifle while two prisoners of war dig their grave. He asks them to stop then shoots down and watches as they fall into their grave. There is a scene in a courtroom where Sheeren stands in court for stealing from the meat company he works for. The case is dismissed and the judge gives the prosecution a stern warning. There is a time Frank beat up a man for shoving his daughter. There are murders in the sidewalk, in a bar, and elsewhere; and there are dozens of guns dropped into the sea.
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Then Jimmy Hoffa comes into the show and the movie catches fresh fire. Played by Al Pacino, Hoffa is a character you would struggle to dislike. He is full of energy, will not drink and will have your hide for lunch for being one minute late. And he is a powerful orator who can set an audience ablaze. Hoffa’s storyline overlaps with the rise of fellow Catholic John Kennedy into the presidency and Hoffa and his teamsters of truck riders helped Kennedy take Ilinois which he won by less than 9000 votes. But Hoffa is worried about what Kennedy will do to his union, but Frank is elated – a fellow Irishman is president of the United States of America.
Jack Kennedy appoints his brother Bobby Kennedy as attorney general and he goes after Hoffa. It is said that “The Wolf of Wall Street” also directed by Martin Scorsese is the film with the most swear words in Hollywood. Hoffa’s swearing alone may as well challenge the Wall’s. We see Hoffa and Frank bound into a strong bromance. We see the assassination of Kennedy and the emotional impact it has on the Sheeren household which is the opposite of what Hoffa feels. He won’t even let the flag of the United States at his union headquarters fly at half-hast during the mourning of the president.
Then Hoffa goes to prison. In and out of prison, Hoffa is a delight to watch. With Sheeren and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino and the Irish mobs doing their dirty games, there is a little room for boredom. It is an enjoyable film that will entertain you and demand that you make ethical judgments from time to time. Every second in “The Irishman” counts. And the end turns out to be one of the most powerful scenes in modern screens. Sheeren tells the Reverend Father not to shut the door completely and to leave it a little open just like Hoffa would do. Then the movie comes to an end.
The end of The Irishman
The end of “The Irishman” kept me rooted in my seat for nearly the entirety of the credits. It made me feel emotional and gave me reasons to think of my choices of today and the regrets of old age. Only a few films have ever had this effect on me. I could count them all in my fingers and not exhaust the fingers in one hand. I enjoy films and appreciate great movies, but it takes a lot to get me thinking after a movie. And this song helped a lot:
In the still of the night
I held you
Held you tight
‘Cause I love
Love you so
Promise I’ll never
Let you go
In the still of the night
I will rate “The Irishman” 8/10. I will watch the movie again. And again.
Image source: The Verge