The Irishman

The Irishman ★★★★

Representing 2019 among Films Nominated for Best Picture

Here is director Martin Scorsese in his wheelhouse, a crime drama full of gangsters ala "Casino," "Gangs of New York" and "Goodfellas." Based upon the 2004 book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt, it stars an A-list quartet of Scorsese regulars: Keitel, Pesci, Pacino, De Niro. And it deals with a mystery that still haunts American culture, politics and economy--What the hell happened to missing Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa?

The central figure here is Irish wiseguy Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a WWII veteran and truck driver turned house painter--aka a hitman who decorates walls with blood and brains. When we first meet Frank in the present, he's wheelchair-bound and living in a retirement home. He has outlived everyone who helped him or tried to harm him during his rise through the ranks of laborers and mafioso. Now he is ready to tell his story to an interviewer, spilling all the beans on dozens of criminals, politicians, family friends and mob victims, all of whom are now deceased.

To get to the narrative about Hoffa (Al Pacino), we must first understand how Frank came to be close to him. There's his serendipitous meeting with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci); his stealing sides of beef for gangster Skinny Razor (Bobby Cannavale); his trial for theft and subsequent acquittal thanks to Russell's brother, lawyer Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano); and his marrying a waitress named Irene (Stephanie Kurtzuba). Much of the story is framed within a fateful road trip by car from Philadelphia to Detroit, where Bill's daughter is getting married. The travelers are Frank, Irene, Russell and his cigarette-smoking wife Carrie (Kathrine Narducci).

The film explores the relationship between organized crime and the labor unions. It makes a case for the mob being behind the assassinations of JFK and Robert Kennedy. It also details the use of Teamsters' pension funds to grow casinos, golf courses and personal wealth. It's an epic and uniquely American saga of nobodies, somebodies, wannabes, has-beens and the rules that govern the shadowy world outside polite society--Scorceseland.

De Niro and Pacino have magnificent chemistry in every scene they share. Pesci and Pacino received nominations for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes, Academy Awards and BAFTAs. Ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, give testament to the power of the film. At nearly 3.5 hours in length, it is a challenge to watch at times, but the story catches you early and never lets you slip off the hook. See this for certain.

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