One of the most anticipated movie releases of 2019 is The Irishman. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, this epic, decades-spanning crime film tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. Longtime Scorsese collaborator Robert De Niro plays Sheeran, the eventual right-hand man of infamous union leader Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino. As you could imagine, a movie directed by Scorsese and starring De Niro and Pacino, along with Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, has made a certain brand of film buff super excited. Well, I can personally tell you, the movie definitely lives up to all the hype. But don’t just take my word for it; here are some unknown facts about one of the best movies of 2019.
1. Based on a Book
The Irishman is largely based on a 2004 non-fiction book written by Charles Brandt called I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa. The book recounts the life of Sheeran and how he got involved with the mob and eventually with the head of the Teamsters Union Jimmy Hoffa.
2. The Irishman…Or Not?
While the film is officially called The Irishman, its title onscreen is actually I Heard You Paint Houses.
3. One of the Great Duos
The Irishman marks the ninth feature film collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro. Their illustrious partnership started with 1973’s Mean Streets. Perhaps their most famous collaborations are 1976’s Taxi Driver and 1980’s Raging Bull, the latter of which De Niro would win the Academy Award for Best Actor. However, this is actually the first time the two have teamed up for a movie since 1995’s Casino, though De Niro did appear in a 2015 promotional short film that Scorsese directed for the Studio City Casino in Macau. Does that count?
4. Two of the Best
De Niro and Pacino are two of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors. With their similar profiles—both hail from New York and came to prominence in the 1970s—whenever they team up for a movie, it’s considered a truly special event. The Irishman is the fourth time the iconic actors have been in the same film. The first time they appeared in the same movie was 1974’s The Godfather: Part II, though they didn’t share any scenes. They did share scenes in the 1995 film Heat and 2008’s Righteous Kill.
5. Turning Back the Clock
One really intriguing aspect of this movie is the “de-aging” techniques used to make De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci, who are all in their 70s, look noticeably younger. Instead of using younger actors or prosthetics and makeup, the film uses CGI and other digital effects to make the actors’ faces look less aged. To complete the effect, posture coaches were brought in to help the actors move the way they did decades ago.
6. Help From George
Industrial Light and Magic created the visual effects for the movie. The company was founded by another heralded director who first caught the attention of moviegoers in the 1970s—George Lucas.
7. The Man Behind the Music
The film’s score was composed by Canadian musician Robbie Robertson, who also helped compile the film’s jukebox soundtrack with Randall Poster. Robertson and Scorsese also have a shared history, with Robertson helping out with the score and soundtrack for movies like Raging Bull, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Their most famous collaboration, however, was The Last Waltz, a documentary/concert film directed by Scorsese that depicted a star-studded farewell concert for Robertson’s The Band.
8. Signature Song
Scorsese is pretty fond of using popular songs from the 50s and 60s in his movies. Who could forget his use of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” during the opening of Mean Streets, or The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” during the iconic Copacabana tracking shot in Goodfellas, or the many times he’s used “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones? In The Irishman, he uses the doo-wop classic “In the Still of the Night” by The Five Satins throughout the movie to great effect. After watching the movie a couple of weeks ago, it’s still in my head!
9. Opening Night(s)
The Irishman had its official premiere on September 27, 2019, at the 57th New York Film Festival. Then, a few weeks later, the film had its international premiere on October 13, 2019, as part of the Closing Night Gala at the BFI London Film Festival.
10. Acclaim from the Film Industry
The movie has received glowing praise from many directors. Guillermo del Toro called The Irishman “A masterpiece. The perfect corollary to Goodfellas and Casino.” Ava DuVernay and Edgar Wright have also commented positively towards the film. Scorsese’s frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio praised the movie at the 2019 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, remarking, “Marty [Scorsese] transcends his own signature genre and creates a film that methodically transforms itself into an exploration of our very own universally shared mortality. The film is absolutely breathtaking.”
11. A Plethora of Production Issues
The film was in the planning stages for many years before it officially entered production. Early development began way back in 2007. After numerous delays, Scorsese announced in 2014 that it would be his next project following Silence. With the budget of the movie growing past initial estimates, the original backers, Fábrica de Cine and Paramount Pictures, exited the project. In came Netflix to the rescue, who committed to buying the rights for the movie for $105 million and putting up a $125 million budget.
12. Not Cheap
The final production budget came out to $159 million, which made it one of the most expensive movies Scorsese has ever directed. Factoring in marketing costs, it may surpass Scorsese’s most expensive movie to date, Hugo.
13. Be Warned: It’s Long
One thing to keep in mind before watching this movie, whether at the theatre or at home on Netflix, is that it’s nearly three and a half hours long! Its official runtime of 209 minutes makes it Scorsese’s longest movie. So if you’re watching it at home, you might want to consider breaking it up into “episodes.” And if you’re watching it in the theatre, maybe grab a medium soda instead of a large!
14. Out of Retirement
The Irishman marks actor Joe Pesci’s return to the movies. In 1999, Pesci announced that he was semi-retiring from acting to pursue other opportunities. He has since only made a few on-screen appearances, such as a cameo in the De Niro-directed film The Good Shepherd and a Snickers commercial. After being asked plenty of times to consider the role of Russell Buffalino, Pesci finally agreed. Pesci has previously co-starred with De Niro in the Scorsese-directed films Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino.
15. A Unique Experience
The Irishman had a month-long theatrical run at New York City’s historic Belasco Theatre. This is the first time that the well-known Broadway landmark has exhibited a movie in its 112-year history.
16. Coming to a Screen (Really) Near You
After its theatrical run, The Irishman was released on Netflix on November 27, 2019, one day before Thanksgiving in the United States.
17. Oscar Pedigree
The film’s cast and crew comprise of many former Oscar winners. Scorsese himself, screenwriter Steve Zaillian, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker are all winners in their respective categories. Four of the movie’s actors have also won big with the Academy—De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Anna Paquin, who plays Sheeran’s daughter in the movie, all have the golden statue on their mantle. The question now is, will they be adding any more this year?
18. Wide Release Issues
Scorsese was hoping for his film to get a traditional theatrical rollout, allowing moviegoers to see the film on a big screen with a large audience. However, the major theatre chains in the United States and other markets nixed those plans, after they couldn’t receive a 60-day exclusivity window from Netflix. Essentially, the theatre chains were hoping that Netflix would allow them to screen The Irishman in their cinemas for two months before it premiered on the streaming service.
Instead, the film received a limited release on November 1, 2019, at mostly independent-run theatres, before getting its Netflix premiere at the end of the month.
19. Trusted Editor
More than De Niro or Leo or Pesci or Robbie Robertson, Scorsese’s most important and frequent collaborator is film editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker, in fact, edited Scorsese’s first-ever film, 1967’s Who’s that Knocking at My Door. She has edited every Scorsese-directed narrative film since 1980’s Raging Bull. Including The Irishman, the director and editor have teamed up for 20 feature films.
20. A Long Shoot
Filming for The Irishman commenced on September 18, 2017, and wrapped on March 5, 2018. In total, the film’s production contained 108 shooting days. The movie was filmed in New York City and the surrounding area, including locations on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.
21. Joining Forces for the First Time
Al Pacino has worked with many prominent directors over his long and storied career—everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to Christopher Nolan to Quentin Tarantino. Yet, The Irishman is somehow the first time he’s starred in a Scorsese film.
22. How The Project Got Rolling
The genesis for the film came when Scorsese informed De Niro about working together on a project about an aging hitman. De Niro read Charles Brandt’s book on Frank Sheeran for research and was completely blown away. De Niro convinced Scorsese to shelve his initial plans and instead work on adapting the book’s depiction of Sheeran’s life.
23. Not the First Hoffa
The Irishman is not the first major Hollywood film to depict Jimmy Hoffa. Released in 1992, Hoffa details the controversial life and mysterious disappearance of the infamous union leader. The movie was directed by Danny DeVito and starred Jack Nicholson in the titular role. Hoffa was also depicted in the 1983 made-for-television Blood Feud, which focuses on the contentious relationship between Hoffa, as played by Robert Blake, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
24. Did All of This Really Happen?
Without completely spoiling the movie, it’s important to note that the circumstances regarding the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa as depicted in the film and in Charles Brandt’s book have been discredited by many. Law enforcement officials, people who had ties to the NY mob, and members of the Teamsters union have all cried foul on the story. Both the book and movie are based on the recollections of Frank Sheeran and many of those closely involved in the Hoffa investigation are simply not buying his claim that Sheeran played a major part in Hoffa’s disappearance.
25. Who Was Jimmy Hoffa?
As the film states, there was a point in American history when Jimmy Hoffa was probably more famous than Elvis or The Beatles. With a large chunk of the American workforce in unions at time and with him being the leader and very public face of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, many Americans revered Hoffa. However, he was also controversial due to his links to organized crime.
In the 1960s, he was the subject of many criminal investigations led by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy. These investigations eventually saw Hoffa convicted of jury tampering, bribery, and fraud, and he ended up behind bars in 1967. However, a few years later, President Richard Nixon pardoned him and oversaw his release from prison.
Hoffa disappeared in 1975 and his body was never recovered. He was declared legally dead in 1982. Many theories have emerged regarding his disappearance—only one of which is depicted onscreen in The Irishman.
26. Who Was Frank Sheeran?
After serving in the army during World War II, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran returned home, became a truck driver, and joined the Teamsters union. Along the way, he began doing small tasks for the local Mafia outfit headed by Russell Buffalino, eventually becoming a loyal enforcer and hitman. Through Buffalino, he became a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa. His connections led him to become a high-ranking official within the Teamsters organization. Sheeran would later be convicted of racketeering and sentenced to prison. Following his release, Sheeran would spend his last years in a nursing home before passing away in 2003 at the age of 83.
The Irishman and the Charles Brandt book the movie is based on are told through Sheeran’s perspective as he ruefully reflects on a troubled life full of crime and violence.