On a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon, I decided at last to watch "The Irishman," Martin Scorsese's take on Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance and other famous mob murders.
The film featured a murderers' row of famed mob-noir actors: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci, Bobby Cannavale, Al Pacino, Jesse Plemons, even Steven Van Zandt in a cameo role. And Ray Romano shows up as a mob lawyer. Michael Imperioli and Ray Liotta must have been busy.
While Pesci was mesmerizing as the crime boss Russell Bufalino, DeNiro as the hit man Frank Sheeran and Pacino as Hoffa burn up the screen in their dual appearances. The two acting legends keep pushing each other to more flamboyant mugging and vocal histrionics.
Taken from Sheeran's memoir, "I Hear You Paint Houses," the exhausting three and half-hour film written by Steve Zaillian and directed by Scorsese for Netflix hinted at Mafia involvement in the John F. Kennedy assassination, as well as Hoffa's death. Like a homicidal Forrest Gump, DeNiro's every-man hitman Sheeran keeps showing up, even killing "Crazy Joey" Gallo at a restaurant in Manhattan.
Scorsese and Zaillain give tantalizing tidbits of mob culture: "I Hear You Paint Houses" is code for "I hear you kill people." There's a long mystifying dialogue about a fish left in the back of a car, connected to Hoffa’s killing. Right: "He sleeps with the fishes."
Conspiracy buffs will levitate at references to old Joe Kennedy's mob ties, JFK's disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, and other hints of mob anger at what they saw as the Kennedys' betrayals. The CIA is not mentioned. There is a muffled mention of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.
The epic makes references to other mob films, directed by Scorsese and others. The depiction of Gallo's murder echoes the famous scene in Francis Ford Coppolla's "Godfather" in which Pacino's Michael Corleone kills the mob boss and crooked cop at an Italian restaurant. This time, the killer doesn't go to the bathroom to find the murder weapon.
A huge banquet honoring Sheeran, where Van Zandt appears as singer Jerry Vale, recalls the wedding scene in Coppolla's movie. Bits from "The Sopranos," "Goodfellas," "Casino," "Scarface" and "Mean Streets" fly by.
Pacino and De Niro appeared in "Godfather Part II," but in separate tracks. "The Irishman" was the first film in which they faced off against each other.
I was gratified that the movie made a passing reference to Ed Grady Partin, the Baton Rouge Teamster boss whose testimony sent union president Hoffa to prison. In my youth, Partin's strikes often shut down Louisiana's capital city for months. Partin met his downfall trying to organize workers at publisher and TV station owner Douglas Manship's Morning Advocate.
"The Irishman" is like a greatest hits album featuring stars of yesteryear. The movie is a feast for history, conspiracy, Mafia and film buffs. The soundtrack of old '50s and '60s songs, compiled by the Band's Robbie Robertson - also touch the nostalgia synapses.
God, the film is long. Scorsese might have cut closing scenes of De Niro in his nursing home, reminiscing about the old days of carrying out mob hits and confessing his sins to a young priest.
But, hey, it was De Niro, filling the screen.