Director Martin Scorsese delivers another epic story in “The Irishman,” a powerful gangster film with a legendary cast.
“When I was young, I thought certain guys just painted houses,” former mob enforcer Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) says. “I was one of thousand working stiffs. Until I wasn’t no more. And then I started painting houses myself.”
He plans a road trip to Detroit, chauffeuring Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Russell would not allow anyone to smoke in his car since Jimmy Blue Eyes and Meyer Lansky convinced him to stop smoking when they got kicked out the casinos in Cuba.
They stop for a cigarette break at the point where he and Russell first met, when then truck driver Frank broke down. “I thought he owned something. Like the gas station. Turns out he owned the whole road.”
Frank begins selling the meat he is supposed to deliver on the black market, bribing people along the way.
His lawyer, William Bufalino (Ray Romano in a great performance), gets him acquitted of being accused of stealing. Coincidentally William and Russell are cousins.
Russell is sitting with Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel), the newly minted mob boss of Philadelphia.
“Everybody came to Russell for advice,” Frank recalled. “You wanted to bribe a judge, you asked Russell. You didn’t know how much to bribe him, Russell would tell you how much. You wanted to promote one of your guys, Russell would tell you whether you could or couldn’t. You wanted to make money disappear, you needed Russell’s permission. And when you did something for Russell, you did it yourself. You couldn’t tell by looking at the guy, but all roads lead to Russ.”
“When someone says they’re a little concerned, they’re very concerned. And when someone says that they’re very concerned, they’re desperate,” Frank says when he is asked to blow up a competing laundry business in Delaware, using the skills he acquired as a soldier during World War II.
He gives the cash he is paid to his wife, telling her that he “hit the number.” Turns out Angelo is a part owner of the company and it is only through the intervention of Russell that Frank’s life is saved.
“It was like the Army. You did your job, you followed order, you got rewarded.”
Russell introduces Frank to superstar labor leader and Teamster union president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Frank leads sabotage teams that damage rival unions. Frank charts how Hoffa helped finance the construction of Las Vegas and how the Chicago mob helped get Jack Kennedy elected president and Hoffa’s meteoric rise and spectacular fall.
The film is evocative of “Goodfellas” and “Casino” with a sleeker style. The chemistry between the performers is palpable. Pacino is electric in his first collaboration with Scorsese.
The superb cast also includes Bobby Cannavale, Sebastian Maniscalco and Jim Norton.