The Irishman


In 1975, Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters Union reportedly disappeared, leading to various conspiracy theories. The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese, provides one but spends more time as a biopic of his Teamsters successor, Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro). Sheeran begins the film in a Philadelphia senior home, recounting his past life up to his death in 2003. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, mostly chronological.

Sheeran is depicted as a humble get-the-job-done “hit man” who rises through the ranks due to his mentor Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesca). To explain his personality, there is a flashback to when he is in Italy during World War II, having two enemy soldiers dig their graves and then joyously shooting them, a clear war crime for which he was never held accountable. Having learned Italian, Sheeran is then able to find postwar employment within the Bufalino crime family. Many escapades are depicted, and Sheeran soon becomes the one most trusted by Hoffa (Al Pacino). When some Bufalinos become angry with Hoffa, they delegate Sheeran the task of asking him to step down as Teamsters head. When Hoffa refuses, Sheeran has an assignment that constitutes the main conspiracy theory and climax point of the film—all based on a boast by Sheeran shortly before his death according to Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses (2004).

But politically oriented filmviewers will be rattled by another conspiracy theory — the role that the Teamsters supposedly played in James Daley’s Chicago to swing the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy. Believing that the new president would return the favor, Hoffa is instead confronted by Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Jack Huston), who lusts to bring mafia families to justice. Yet another conspiracy theory subliminally emerges as that theme is played out.

Still another element lurking over the film is that the film’s release was timed on the eve of the trial of Roger Stone and impeachment hearings of Donald Trump. Stone made his familiarity with dirty tricks in The Godfather (1972) known just before his trial. The use of the word “favor,” which figures prominently into Trump’s impeachment accusations, is deftly used in The Irishman as a colloquial term within mob jargon.

Many filmviewers will be perplexed on learning that The Irishman is 3.5 hours long. But those fearing that they will fall asleep need not be concerned: There are plenty of explosions and laughter scenes to wake up those who might doze off. Indeed, the brassy parts seem calculated for that purpose—Oops. Another conspiracy theory!  MH