Martin Scorsese has created a sprawling, three-and-a-half-hour gangster epic, teaming Robert De Niro with Al Pacino (for the first time), along with Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel.
Now confined to a wheelchair in a Catholic nursing home, melancholy Frank Sheeran (De Niro) recalls the events leading up to the 1975 murder of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) and how it connects with a road trip to a wedding in Detroit with Frank’s ruthless mentor Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and their respective wives.
After fighting in WWII, Frank meets Russ, impressing him by how, as a truck driver, he deftly stole sides of meat for his cousin Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano). That leads to jobs for Philadelphia Mafia bosses Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and Felix ‘Skinny Razor’ Di’Tullio (Bobby Cannavale) which, in turn, convinced Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) to hire him as his personal spy/bodyguard.
“The first words Jimmy ever spoke to me were, ‘I heard you paint houses,’” recalls Frank. That’s mob slang for “painting the walls red” with blood.
Hoffa loathed President John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby who, as Attorney General, launched a campaign against organized crime – a major betrayal since these same gangsters helped secure JFK’s presidency.
Based on Charles Brandt’s “I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran and the Inside Story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the Final Ride of Jimmy Hoffa” (2004), it’s slyly scripted by Steven Zaillian, although a subplot featuring Frank’s unforgiving daughter Peggy (Lucy Gallina as a child/Anna Paquin as an adult) emerges as an awkward detour into his conscience.
Much-heralded visual effects enable De Niro, Pesci and Pacino to “de-age” three decades, chronicled by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and impeccably edited by Thelma Schoonmaker. Expect Oscar nominations for Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, along with Zaillian, Prieto, Schoonmaker and production designer Bob Shaw.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Irishman” is a coldly credible, captivating 9 – with cinematic masters at the top of their game