The Irishman Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Coming from a family of an Irish immigrant and a Swiss immigrant, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) served in the US Army from August 1941. He spent 411 days in combat, participating in the Italian campaign, the landings in southern France, the battles in the Ardennes and the invasion of Germany.

At the age of 25, he was discharged from the army, after which Sheeran changed many jobs: he hated working in an office or on an assembly line, so he eventually became a truck driver and joined the International Brotherhood of Transporters union.

During the war, Sheeran learned Italian, which allowed him to make good acquaintances among the Italian-American mobsters – most notably northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), who worked with Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel).

At the request of Russell, Frank began to help the mob clean the trucks of the company for which he worked, and when he was nevertheless kicked out of the company, Bufalino began to use Sheeran as a “torpedo”, performing special tasks, including threats and murders.

Sheeran did not refuse any of Russell’s requests, kept his mouth shut and gained a good reputation among the mafiosi, despite the fact that he was not Italian and was not officially a member of the mafia – he was only an associate in their table of ranks, that is, an ally.

Frank was introduced as a reliable person to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the head of the transport union, a very influential person who, at the same time, did not shy away from doing some business with the mafia, also with the help of the Hoffa mafia solves various problems with those union members who oppose him .

Over time, Sheeran becomes a close friend of Hoffa, often accompanying him on trips as a bodyguard, and at the same time acts as an intermediary between Hoffa and the mafia. With the help of Hoffa, Frank also becomes a prominent trade unionist – he heads one of the major trade union branches.


Martin Scorsese conceived this project quite a long time ago, and initially planned to invite Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to the main roles, who had starred in only a couple of films since Lethal Weapon 4 and categorically rejected any filming offers.

The film was written by Steven Zaillian based on the novel I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, which was written by Charles based on Frank Sheeran’s own stories about his life. The title of the book is related to the mafia term “painter” – the name given to people who commit murders on the orders of mafia bosses.

In 2016, at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, Scorsese officially announced the sale of the rights to this project, however, none of the major studios invested in The Irishman: they were scared away by the high budget (Scorcese said that serious computer processing would have to be done there in order to first rejuvenate and then age the actors, and called a budget of $ 200 million), and the resounding failure of Scorsese’s previous film “Silence” played a significant role: it grossed only $ 23 million with a $ 46 million budget. A Mexican production company was ready to sign on to the project, but it gave only $100 million plus demanded the ability to actively intervene in the process of working on the film, which Scorsese did not like at all.

Finally, in 2017, the director made a deal with the streaming service Netflix, which decided to invest almost $160 million in this ambitious project, and Scorsese was given complete freedom to work on the picture.

After the film was ready, the largest film distribution companies in America and the UK had a conflict with the Netflix service, which did not agree to a 90-day pause between theatrical release and the appearance of the picture on Netflix. As a result, theatrical distribution was limited: the picture was shown only by small independent cinema networks, and there is evidence that the Netflix service itself rented cinemas so that the picture was shown on its terms: Netflix and Scorsese count on an Oscar, and the award is awarded only if if the picture had a theatrical release.

The picture covers a large period of Frank Sheeran’s life: from the fifties of the last century to the beginning of the current two thousandth.

The characters, aged 35-40, were played by Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci themselves, who were rejuvenated for these episodes with the help of computer technology. And this caused a lot of criticism of the director, because it’s one thing when you artificially age a forty-year-old actor with the help of makeup or computer processing to an 80-year-old man and he imitates the old man’s walk and movements, but, alas, it’s a completely different thing when 74 The 35-year-old actor plays a 35-year-old: his face has been rejuvenated, although not too, let’s be honest, successfully, but so far no computer has been able to rejuvenate his gait and movements – and this is very, very visible.

The strangest episode from this part of the picture, which has been reposted many times on social networks, is the scene when Frank comes to the seller who offended his daughter and beats him on the street in front of his daughter. This is amazingly poorly staged: firstly, it is clearly visible that the hero is not at all forty years old, and secondly, well, what prevented Scorsese from using an understudy – you can immediately clearly see how De Niro simply kneads the air with awkward movements with his feet. The drama of the situation is not present in any way – rather, it is some kind of strange comedy.

The film is three and a half hours long. And he is slow, contemplative. Watching it for three and a half hours in a row is hard, and many viewers and critics have a question why this is a film, and not, for example, a mini-series of three or four episodes, because this would have a much better effect on perception. Moreover, the plot of the picture is divided into three different periods: the characters are 35-45 years old, the characters are around 50 years old and the characters are around 80 years old.

Why Scorsese himself did not break the picture into series – he explained by the director’s intention. This is a kind of crime saga that covers a large period in Frank’s life, he himself looks back on his entire life from the nursing home (the picture begins with the camera flying through the nursing home in which Frank is), and in order to approach the last part of the film, you need to get corresponding impressions from viewing the first two parts.

Why didn’t Netflix ask Scorsese to make The Irishman a miniseries? Yes, because, apparently, it is in Netflix that they are aimed at obtaining an Oscar for this film, and the Oscar is awarded for films, not for series. That is why Netflix organized a small theatrical release of The Irishman, although the picture, of course, was filmed primarily for display on the streaming service itself.

We may or may not agree with this approach: who really prevents us from seeing the picture, for example, in three passes, which I did?!

At the same time, the first hour rather disappointed me (however, I did not see the whole picture in perspective), I liked the second hour the most, the third hour at first seemed drawn out, however, having the whole picture in front of my eyes, I can say that I understand why and why Scorsese edited it that way.

It was important for him to show in every detail how this man lived and what he eventually came to. As he explained all his life what he was doing, his concern for the family and the interests of protecting the family, and how he was left without this family as a result, and the youngest daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin) hated her father’s occupation since childhood, she also didn’t digested his mafia friends. And only Jimmy Hoffa she loved, because Jimmy Hoffa still did not look like all these mafiosi.

That is why the final part is so long and unhurried: the director shows that such a life, when you endlessly scroll and relive the unsightly episodes from your life and endlessly regret the most terrible episode, is worse than death. But for Frank, such a life is a punishment for everything he did.

At the same time, we are shown the very frailty of everything that exists: there were once people like Jimmy Hoffa – titans, blocks, absolutely everyone knew them, their influence was close to that of the president. And now, old Frank shows a young nursing home nurse a picture of himself with Jimmy Hoffa and asks if she knows who he is. And the nurse has no idea who it is. She does not know the man whom all of America once knew. Any titans of the past eventually turn into dust. People appear from dust, people turn into dust, as does the memory of them. The idea, in general, is completely well-known, but Scorsese reminds of this very poignantly.

Also interesting is that against the backdrop of Sheeran’s life, the director shows some of the iconic moments of American history that were associated with the mafia. The assassination of Kennedy, allegedly inspired by the mafia, an attempt to deal with Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs and others.

Robert De Niro is Martin Scorsese’s favorite actor, having played in many of the director’s most iconic films. He played Frank very well. (Let’s leave the question of rejuvenation out of the equation here, because this is not a complaint against De Niro.)

His Frank is a man of few words and reserved. In the war, he learned to kill, he killed many people, he saw with his own eyes the liquidation of prisoners and the massacre of guards and overseers of concentration camps.

Returning from the war, he thought about death, and then decided that nothing could happen to him worse than the war, so why not start living in such a way as to earn some money and provide for his family? And if this life is connected with the killing of people – well, then so be it, because what difference does it make who exactly kills them, if the order was received anyway?

And De Niro’s Frank is just that. Completely unemotional, accustomed to following orders without asking any questions. It must be so. Russell said to do it – Frank will do it.

Joe Pesci is also very good here. And with Scorsese, Pesci always played such bandits-psychopaths – that Tommy DeVito, who is completely sick in the head, from Goodfellas, that Nicky Santoro from Casino, who is completely frostbitten. But here it is a completely different type. Russell does not show violent emotions, speaks in a quiet voice, never directly threatens, but you understand that this person is real – very, very dangerous. Great role, it was nice to see Pesci after so many years of his absence from the cinema!

Al Pacino, in my opinion, brilliantly played Jimmy Hoffa! A powerful, charismatic leader who really cares about the affairs of the trade union: someone reproached him for giving out loans to the mafia from the pension fund of the trade union, but the mafiosi then returned the money with good interest, and this allowed Jimmy to increase pensions to union members, pay them medical care and so on. At the same time, there seems to be evidence that he acted precisely in the interests of his people and nothing “sticked” to him for this.

Pacino Hoff turned out to be bright, powerful and ambiguous – apparently, this is exactly how he was in life. And I haven’t seen Al Pacino like this for a long time – it seems that he really got a couple of decades younger, before that a good role turned out.

Well, it’s nice to see how these two wonderful actors – Al Pacino and Robert De Niro – play in a pair: despite the fact that they have already played together in the second “Godfather”, but there their characters did not intersect in any way (De Niro played a young Vito Corleone), also in “Fight”, where they also starred, their characters intersected in just a couple of episodes. And here, Hoffa and Sheeran spend quite a lot of time together, which is great.

Harvey Keitel, who previously starred in five films with Scorsese, appears here in a very episodic role – so, for show.

Another interesting thing is that The Irishman starred many actors who somehow played mafiosi in various films, well, from the Boardwalk Empire, where Scorsese was an executive producer and filmed the pilot episode, Jack Huston, Stephen Graham and Bobby migrated here Cannavale. Stephen Graham plays trade union leader Anthony Provenzano, whom Hoffa hates, but Provenzano is considered mafia, and Hoffa is forced to somehow negotiate with Anthony. The role is somewhat similar to his role as Al Capone in “Boardwalk Empire” – a similar type. And Bobby Cannavale plays Keitel’s sidekick Skinny Razor, and unfortunately he doesn’t have many cameos.

And I also want to mention Ray Romano, who played Billy Bufalino, a relative of Russell (actually, it was Billy Frank who introduced Russell), a polished lawyer who is engaged in evading mafiosi and their henchmen in the courts. Good role, the lawyer is very curious.

Some viewers blame Scorsese for the fact that there is, they say, almost no vivid dialogues, some kind of witticisms, and so on. Well, witticisms in a crime drama are somehow useless, but vivid dialogues … So here the director just shows the routine of all this mafia riff-raff. How they live, how they talk to each other, how they give orders to kill, how they communicate with their relatives, friends and henchmen. There is nothing particularly striking here, and the fact that orders to kill someone are issued in the most everyday tone is just scary.

And it was completely strange to see claims against Martin that he, they say, romanticizes bandits. Now this is completely nonsense, there is no romanticization here at all. There is such a phenomenon, which, by the way, has not yet been completely overcome, Scorsese talks about it. And what, someone in the process of watching the film has admiration for Russell and other mafiosi? Does anyone admire what Sheeran does? Yes, his own family looks at him with undisguised disgust. Romanticization, yes, let’s be like Sheeran.

I like this movie. Yes, it’s long, yes, it’s a bit drawn out, but the director has his own reasons for this lengthiness – in general, understandable. I did not like only the section with young heroes: in my opinion, it still made sense to select the appropriate young actors. But this is a Scorsese film, not mine, so he knows better how to put it all.

It’s not Scorsese’s best film (I think The Color of Money and The Goodfellas are the best), but it’s a very worthy movie, which the director made absolutely uncompromisingly – exactly the way he wanted to make it. And I did not regret at all that I saw this picture.

Well, I must say: do not stop watching The Irishman after an hour of viewing, when you may have a desire to do so. This film can be easily watched in two or three steps, but in order to form an opinion about it, the picture must be watched in its entirety – only then the whole director’s intention will be clear.

PS I listened to the dubbing. Here’s what I didn’t like. De Niro was voiced very badly. Walk too. With Al Pacino, at least the voice is similar, but the intonations are completely different. In my opinion, this greatly spoils the impression. They didn’t seem to get it right with the translation, but there the text is already so simple, intonations are important there.

The Irishman movie meaning


Martin Scorsese


Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Joe Pesci, Jack Huston, Anna Paquin, Stephanie Kurzuba, Katherine Narducci

Budget: $159 million, Crime drama, USA, 2019, 209 min .

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