The Irishman (titled onscreen as I Heard You Paint Houses) is a 2019 American epic crime film directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian, based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, with Ray Romano, Bobby Canavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel in supporting roles. The film follows Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman and gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).
In September 2014, after years of development hell, The Irishman was announced as Scorsese’s next film following Silence (2016). De Niro, who also served as producer, and Pacino were confirmed that month, as was Pesci, who came out of his unofficial retirement to star after being asked numerous times to take the role. Principal photography began in September 2017 in New York City and in the Mineola and Williston Park sections of Long Island and wrapped in March 2018. With a production budget of $159 million, it is one of the most expensive films of Scorsese’s career.
The Irishman had its world premiere at the 57th New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019, and began a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, to be followed by digital streaming on Netflix on November 27, 2019. The film was met with widespread acclaim, with specific praise going towards Scorsese’s direction, the screenplay, the editing, the cinematography and the performances of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci. It is considered by many critics to be one of Scorsese’s best films.
In 1950s Pennsylvania, World War II veteran Frank Sheeran drives trucks and starts to sell some of the contents of his shipments to a local gangster. After getting accused by his company of theft, lawyer Bill Bufalino gets him off after Sheeran refuses to give the judge any names of who he was selling to. Bufalino then introduces Sheeran to his cousin Russell, the head of the northeast Pennsylvania crime family. Sheeran begins to do jobs for Russell, including murders.
Soon, Russell introduces Sheeran to Jimmy Hoffa, the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who has financial ties with the Bufalino crime family and is struggling to deal with fellow rising Teamster Anthony Provenzano, as well as mounting pressure from the federal government. Hoffa becomes close with Sheeran and his family, especially his daughter Peggy, and Sheeran becomes Hoffa’s main bodyguard while he is on the road.
Following the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, Bufalino is thrilled while Hoffa is livid. Kennedy’s brother Robert F. Kennedy, who was named Attorney General, forms the McClellan Committee in an effort to bring down Hoffa, who is eventually arrested in 1964 for jury tampering. While in prison, his replacement atop the Teamsters Frank Fitzsimmons begins overspending the groups’ funds and making loans out to the mafia. Hoffa’s relationship with Provenzano, who was himself arrested for extortion, also deteriorates beyond repair. Hoffa is eventually released via a Presidential Pardon from Richard Nixon in 1971, although he is forbidden from taking part in any Teamsters activities until 1980.
Despite this, Hoffa begins his plan to retake his power atop the organized union world. His disregard for other’s caution and requests begins to worry the likes of Bufalino, who eventually warns Hoffa at an event celebrating Sheeran that the heads of the crime families are not pleased with how he is behaving and issues him a warning. Hoffa then discloses to Sheeran that he knows things that Bufalino and the other dons don’t know he knows, and he is untouchable because if anything ever happened to him they would all be exposed and go to prison.
In 1975, while driving up to a wedding for Bill Bufalino’s daughter, Russell tells Sheeran that things have reached their breaking point with Hoffa and his death has been sanctioned. Sheeran and Bufalino drive to an airport and Sheeran then get on a plane for Detroit. Sheeran tells Hoffa he will be in town early in the day, but does not arrive until the late afternoon. Hoffa, who had scheduled a meeting at a local diner with Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone, is surprised to see Sheeran arrive in a car with Hoffa’s stepson, Chuckie O’Brien, and Sal Briguglio, another gangster. Briguglio tells Hoffa the meeting got moved to a local house and that Provenzano and Bufalino are there waiting for him, and Sheeran assures Hoffa everything is all right. Sheeran and Hoffa enter as the other two drive away. Upon entering the house, Hoffa sees no one else inside and notices a new layer of flooring has been placed in just one area, and, realizing he is being set up, turns to caution Sheeran, who then shoots Hoffa twice before leaving the gun and the body at the entrance.
Sheeran, Russell Bufalino, Provenzano, and others are eventually convicted on charges unrelated to Hoffa’s murder, and one-by-one begins to die in prison. Sheeran is eventually released and placed in a retirement home. He tries to make peace with his daughters, but Peggy, but having realized Frank murdered Hoffa, never forgives or speaks to him following Hoffa’s disappearance. Sheeran eventually dies of lung cancer in 2003.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 97% based on 149 reviews, with an average rating of 8.89/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “An epic gangster drama that earns its extended runtime, The Irishman finds Martin Scorsese revisiting familiar themes to poignant, funny, and profound effect.”
Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 95 out of 100 based on 40 critics, indicating “universal acclaim”.
Writing for TIME, Stephanie Zacharek gave The Irishman a perfect score, calling the film “clever and entertaining, to the point where you may think that’s all it’s going to be” and that “its last half-hour is deeply moving in a way that creeps upon you, and it’s then that you see what Scorsese was working toward all along”; she also added that “the de-aging is distracting at first […] but the special effects are hardly a deal-breaker, and in the end they probably add to the movie’s mythological vibe.” Similarly, Owen Gleiberman of Variety called it “a coldly enthralling, long-form knockout — a majestic Mob epic with ice in its veins”, particularly praising Pacino’s performance as “the film’s most extraordinary.” RogerEbert.com’s Matt Zoller Seitz gave the film three and a half stars out of four, defining Scorsese “one of the greatest living, though still largely unsung, comedy directors” and also praised the editing of Thelma Schoonmaker.
Benjamin Lee of The Guardian wrote that in the film “there’s an almost meta-maturity as if Scorsese is also looking back on his own career, the film leaving us with a haunting reminder not to glamorize violent men and the wreckage they leave behind.”
Mike Ryan of Uproxx called it a “phenomenal film”, stating that the de-aging is “pretty good” and “the best I’ve seen so far”, but noted that “if you stare at it, yes, you can see the imperfections […] but you do get used to it”,while Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post wrote that the film has “a different tone than your average gangster film” and that “Scorsese is at the top of his game […] his film is never boring, and it explores some unexpectedly deep themes for mafiosos.”
IndieWire‘s Eric Kohn stated that “The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s best crime movie since Goodfellas, and a pure, unbridled illustration of what has made his filmmaking voice so distinctive for nearly 50 years”, reserving particular praise to Steven Zaillian’s screenplay, writing that “Zaillian hasn’t delivered a script this polished since Moneyball.”
David Edelstein wrote for Vulture that “Pesci […] plays Bufalino as almost supernaturally focused and watchful, always hypersensitive to other peoples’ rhythms […] I thank the gods of acting that he came out of retirement to do this.” He also praised the performances of De Niro and Pacino, stating that The Irishman is one of Scorsese’s “most satisfying films in decades.”
Writing for TheWrap, Alonso Duralde praised Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and Scorsese’s direction, writing that “at the age of 76, Scorsese is embracing new technologies with the fervor of Ang Lee […] and indulging in retro fantasy with the keen eye of Quentin Tarantino.”
While giving a positive review, David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter criticized the runtime, stating that “the excessive length ultimately is a weakness” and “that the material would have been better served by losing an hour or more to run at standard feature-length.”
Writing for the National Review, Kyle Smith gave a more critical review, saying that “while it’s a good film, it isn’t a great one” and also commented that “[The Irishman] could easily be trimmed by 30 minutes or more by tightening up the midsection.”
Conversely, Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote “it runs a minute shy of three and a half hours, and I wouldn’t wish it any shorter”, and Karen Han of Polygon said that “Scorsese is so adept at storytelling, and his cast is so unbelievable, that the film […] barely feels its length.”