Dark Mode

‘The Irishman’ on Netflix: A Mob Epic Masterpiece By Martin Scorsese

‘The Irishman’ on Netflix: A Mob Epic Masterpiece By Martin Scorsese

‘I Heard You Paint Houses’, asks Al Pacino in the 56-seconds teaser of ‘The Irishman’ that was launched by Netflix nine months ago, directed by Martin Scorsese. The sentence was a hint to the movie’s plot. Actually, It’s a narrative non-fiction written by the former defense attorney and investigator Charles Brandt in 2004  that documents the life of an Irish mob hitman, Frank Sheeran, who confesses bone-chilling details of killing James Riddle Hoffa, aka Jimmy Hoffa, whose sudden disappearance became a legend and a mysterious tale in the mid-70s in the United States. Jimmy Hoffa in 60s and early 70s was a powerful labor union leader and the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, IBT. ‘The Irishman’ is based on the book, ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’. 

‘The Irishman’ was the most-anticipated movie of the year as Martin Scorsese pulls off a classic reunion with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. It clearly is the most ambitious project of Scorsese as Al and De Niro have co-starred for the fourth time in their Hollywood career after Godfather II 1974, Heat 1995 and Righteous Kill in 2008. However, they never shared screens in the same frame in Godfather-II and only for 10 minutes out of 170 in the movie ‘Heat’, the famous ‘diner scene’. 

Frank Sheeran

‘The Irishman’ starts with a timeless melancholic melody ‘In the still of night’ written by Fred Perris {The Satins} in 1955. Frank Sheeran {Robert De Niro} narrates the story sitting in an old-age home. 

A World War II veteran, Frank, is a truck driver who exports beef for a private company lands up in trouble over the charges of theft as he supplies beef secretly to the rival side that saves extra dime for him. He consults a lawyer, Bill Bufalino {Ray Romano} to get away with this. Bill is the cousin of mobster Russell Bufalino {Joe Pesci}, whom Sheeran already had met once met at a gas station before getting introduced by his lawyer Bill in a bar.

The plot unfolds in a bit nonlinear projection like we see in the Scorsese’s movies Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street but I would hesitate say Tarantino’s or Christopher Nolan’s way, they are extreme. 


Sheeran opens up to Russell about his past life, his role in WWII under a General named Patton. Bufalino finds a loyal man in Frank Sheeran and assigns him some ‘side jobs’ like trafficking trucks filled with arsons. Sheeran also whacks people on the cue of his boss Russell. Every time he kills, mostly on point blank, he throws the weapon in a river which he describes as, ‘..there is a spot in the Schuylkill River, everybody uses it. Today if they send divers down there, they’d be able to arm a small country.’

The scene jumps where Russell and Sheeran with their wives are driving in Russell’s car to the wedding of Bill Bufalino’s daughter. The car trip helps narrator Sheeran to return to the events. There are interludes of the Presidential election in the US and the tensions between Fidel Castro led Cuban revolutionary rebels and the US army. 

Rise of Hoffa and Guilt of Sheeran 

Sheeran first talks to Jimmy Hoffa {Al Pacino} over the telephone when Hoffa asks, ‘I heard you paint houses.’ Sheeran in his narration says that ‘Hoffa in 60s was like Elvis’, and ‘in 70s he was like ‘The Beatles’. Jimmy is a towering personality and loved. He is a charming, short-tempered and hot head leader of the union. He never wants the Democrat John F Kennedy to be the President of the US, unlike his friends and other union members. Sitting with his family, he abuses JFK and the other Irishman in the same breath as Kennedy wins the election and becomes the 35th President of the US. Threatened by the change in the status quo of his union, Hoffa in public speeches persuaded people to unite against the government and big businesses as they were on to tear apart the union.

In the early scenes, Sheeran’s daughter Peggy (Lucy Gallina as a child and Anna Paquin as an adult) don’t feel very highly of her father. One scene where Sheeran thrashes a nearby grocery guy for allegedly shoving Peggy. It was the turning point of events in Peggy’s life. She hardly has spoken two-three sentences in the film but her eyes filled with pity and remorse for the evils of his father is evident that she didn’t like him. You might think that women in the movie are inconsequential, rightly so, but the silence of Peggy is worth thousand words and actions that drive Sheeran feel inferior to the world and Hoffa. Peggy was in awe of Hoffa. She treats him like a father figure, which she never could for her own father. Usually silent and tensed, Peggy giggles and spends time with Jimmy Hoffa. It irks Sheeran but he couldn’t do anything. Meanwhile, Russell too tries to be amicable with the little Peggy but fails. 

Joe Pesci Quiet Return Is Exemplary

‘The Irishman’ has some similarities to the Scorsese’s classic mob epic, Goodfellas {1990}. But there is less violence than Goodfellas. Joe Pesci’s character of Russell Bufalino is a cool-headed mob leader who doesn’t show off his power to the wise guys. Unlike Pesci played short-tempered and fragile mob character in Casino and Goodfellas, he and quiet and savage as Russell in ‘The Irishman’. He was out of the business of movies for quite some time. Pesci’s quiet and pious return to screens might leave you awestruck at the acting prowess of this brilliant actor. There is still left in his tank. The last scene where he says to his friend Sheeran, ‘I am going to Church.’ Thereafter he goes to the graveyard.

Frank Sheeran is at the center of the play but always away from the epicenter of the main events. He is more like a contract killer who enjoys the patronage of mobsters, referred as wise guys among the others. He is loyal only to his boss Russell. Once a wise guy, Joe Gallo aka Crazy Joe misbehaves with Russell in a bar, Sheeran recreates a masterpiece to kill Joe inside a diner where he was celebrating his birthday with family. Crazy Joe was mentioned even in Goodfellas when Henry narrates the flashback of the crime in New York. 

Racist Slur

Jimmy Hoffa was charged of fraud by the federal agencies and sent to jail right after the assassination of JF Kennedy. Inside there he meets Anthony Provenzano {Stephen Graham}, nicknamed ‘Tony Pro’, whom Hoffa isn’t very fond me. Long simmering tension between the two escalates inside the jail when Hoffa addresses Pro, ‘You People’, which Tony Pro takes as a ‘racist slur’ and punches Hoffa a several times in his face. 

Hoffa gets the Presidential Pardon and his parole as Richard Nixon elected as the new President. And it ignites the fall of Hoffa

Betrayal of Sheeran and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa

Four years out of business, he was overpowered by Fitz  {his aide} with the support of Tony Pro. Hoffa in an attempt to get the control of the union back disappoints a lot of his friends and enemies. Russell tries to convince him to not rebel for the union President post and step down. Adamant of his motive, Hoffa refuses every suggestion coming his way.

The car trip scene comes in and meanwhile Russell in the commanding tone orders Frank to do the thing for Hoffa. He says that he tried his best to persuade Hoffa to step down but Hoffa was too stubborn to listen. A meeting in the name of compromise was fixed by the mobsters. It was all a plot to eliminate Hoffa. Frank was briefed about the plan. He was sent to Detroit by a plane. Hoffa expected meet his loyal man Sheeran before the meeting was scheduled. But Sheeran overrides him and goes straight to the place where the set up was done. He meets Jimmy Hoffa there. Hoffa complains why Sheeran didn’t show up early to pick him up. Sheeran says there was a change in plan. They reach the place. Hoffa, confident and brave, goes inside the house first followed by Sheeran. He sees no one there. Hoffa asks Sheeran to leave quick. Hoffa turns to the door. Sheeran follows. He picks out a gun from his waist and shoots Jimmy Hoffa in his head point blank. Hoffa disappeared. 

Scorsese’s Masterpiece

Frank Sheeran in last scene is filled with remorse, guilt and pity for his deeds. He confesses to a Bishop of a church. He wants to talk to his daughter Peggy too but she ends all relations with her father after the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, who she adored and loved.

The real-life story of gangsters is more than a mob epic. It is also more than a tale of loyalty vs betrayal. 

A 3 hours 28 mins movie can be boring, particularly if it not in the form of Series on Netflix, but Martin Scorsese in ‘The Irishman’ has pulled off a real masterpiece by not letting any loose ends in the script, meticulously written by Steven Zaillian. This melancholic mob epic is so far the most ambitious project of Scorsese. 

(‘I Heard You Paint Houses’: This actually is a type of mob code. Sheeran didn’t paint houses, ever. ‘Paint houses’ means killing people and leave the stains of blood on the floor and walls.)

Comment / Reply From




Sign up to receive email updates on news from our speakers, interviews and events.