How ‘The Irishman’ Prepares for Death

The Gospel Coalition | 11/20/2019 | Brett McCracken
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The Irishman (in theaters now and on Netflix November 27) is the culmination of Martin Scorsese’s career as the foremost auteur of American gangster movies (Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed). No one does this genre better than Scorsese, and with a bigger-than-ever canvas (a three-and-a-half-hour runtime and a $160 million budget), the master can immerse us in American mob tableau like never before—populating the screen with characters with names like “Whispers” and “Crazy Joe” in settings like teamsters halls, Howard Johnson motels, and New York’s Copacabana Nightclub and Umberto’s Clam House.

But more than a culmination of his career, The Irishman is also a reflective commentary on that career—a latter-life confession of sorts as Scorsese, 76, grapples with his own artistic fascination with vice-ridden antiheroes. Like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven in 1992, Martin Scorsese’s Irishman revises and demystifies the myths that made—and still entertain—America.

Irishman - R - Language - Violence - Sort

The Irishman (rated R for language and violence) is sort of like the Forrest Gump of gangster movies. It tells a specific man’s story but against the backdrop of a half-century of American history. The plot centers on real-life mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), and his rise within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Bufalino crime family—he is mentored by boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Like Gump, Sheeran’s story criss-crosses the country (Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Miami) and intersects with iconic moments in the nation’s history: the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy Assassination, the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance, and so on.

Most of the film focuses on where Sheeran’s story intersects with Hoffa’s (Al Pacino). Based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 book, I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa, the movie offers a captivating look inside organized crime, union corruption, and one of America’s most...
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