The Irishman: Scorsese’s Last Hoorah?

Andrew Bondarev ‘22

Right before Thanksgiving, The Irishman made a groundbreaking premiere on Netflix, which was a rather risky move for a 159-million-dollar film. Directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring a legendary cast of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino, the movie meticulously constructed an intriguing look at the true story of Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance.

On the surface, one can infer that the film is a farewell of an unforgettable generation of actors that starred in The Godfather series, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, among others. Upon watching the movie itself, the plotline reflects a bleaker reality of mafia allegiance in 1960s-70s America that includes endless bloodshed and conflict. The protagonist, Frank Sheeran (De Niro), is a hitman for the Bufalino crime family that is willing to do practically anything for a man that gave him a chance to live in the fast lane, Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). 

The film makes bold and effective statements through several motifs that overshadow the minute details that the three hours and thirty minutes entail. One of the most evident effects of the progression of events is demonstrated through Peggy, Frank’s daughter, who is completely alienated from him due to poor parenting combined with the scars of understanding her father killed someone that was dear to her and their family, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). As the storyline goes by and Frank is absolved of his sins as an older man, rendered desolate and lonely after time passes, Scorsese leaves with the message that death is inescapable. 

No matter how tough or feared a man Frank was in his prime as a hitman, he is alone and empty as he is dependent on a nursing home by his eighties. He desperately works to reconcile with his daughter, and yet his attempts are to no avail. Whether this is heartbreaking to the viewer or not, it echoes the fact that the past cannot be erased, and the consequences of one’s actions are felt even in old age.

Setting the scene of 1950s-Philadelphia seamlessly, the production value of the film is off the charts, with Goodfellas-esque violence and fast pace, paired with CGI technology to provide relatively accurate flashbacks in the lives of the main characters. The on-screen chemistry between De Niro and Pesci is palpable, while Pacino perfectly plays the role of a charismatic and loud Jimmy Hoffa.

Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by investigator Charles Brandt, the story chronicles a large amount of content within the runtime, and a possible criticism of the film could be that it is all a bit much. The constant indications of names and deaths of a multitude of characters is a lot to take in for the viewers, and it is quickly realized that not all of this is vital to the story itself. Scorsese went for a very detailed approach that had no holds barred in terms of plot structure and characterization. 

In the end, the film put on a remarkable display of filmmaking skill, epitomized through a profound look at a true story. The movie is missing a bit of the iconic nature of The Godfather or Goodfellas, but it surely served its purpose. It was a vivid demonstration of how past sins can haunt an individual, even after living a glorified lifestyle in the mob. The simple realities of family life and relationships can come back to impede one’s absolution, albeit not spiritually but emotionally.

The damage that is done through the course of action that is tied to a life of crime echoes in eternity, as it sets a foundation for further killing and almost carte blanche for betrayal, even in organizations with old-fashioned values. Therefore, Frank Sheeran was engulfed by the institution he was apart of and fell victim to the violence that facilitated his rise in the business.

Although specific actions undertaken as an initiation to a setting may feel as though hope and freedom can be achieved, these choices ultimately dictate the course of one’s life in an involuntary and unprecedented fashion.