So these four Italians walk into this bar.

OK, it’s an old opening line to a thousand jokes, but here it happens. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and patron Martin Scorsese and his camera walk in and out of a dozen bars, cafes, banquet halls, saloons, bedroom and living rooms, and talk.

There is a lot of talk in “The Irishman,” pouring out of an excellent script by Steven Zaillian, from the book by Charles Brandt.

The dialogue never explodes or rattles out like a machine gun the way it did in Scorsese’s 1990 “Goodfellas,” or 1995 “Casino.” Here, it’s as smooth as marinara and as deadly as arsenic.

“Irishman,” in case you missed all the promos, is allegedly the true story of Frank, “The Irishman” Sheeran, who allegedly murdered the late Jimmy Hoffa, among a dozen other Italians who got in the way, messed up, or otherwise offended the higher ups.

De Niro, of course, looks as Irish as Rudy Giuliani, but who cares, and who could Scorsese cast? Jimmy Cagney? Pat O’Brien? Gene Kelly? The great irishmen are all dead. They did tint his brown eyes.


There is no reason to bore you with the details of the plot. You’ll get all of that laid out in the lengthy run of the film (three and a half hours, not counting the credits and no potty breaks.)

All you really need to know is that Martin Scorsese directed the film, and that for three and a half hours you’re going to be in the presence of cinematic royalty, and watching three brilliant actors mesmerize the cannoli out of you.

Headwaiter Scorsese delivers to your table a pasta bowl of Italian friends in the cinematic version of the Olive Garden’s “never ending pasta bowl.”

There is De Niro, who in my opinion, could play Ingrid Bergman in a remake of “Gaslight” and I’d pay to see it, who forsakes all the rat-a-tat bombast of his “Raging Bull,” and plays it straight.

His Frank Sheeran is a soft spoken, high school drop out, family man, delivery truck driver who falls into the spidery web of Felix DiTullio (the always welcome Bobby Cannavale) and Russell Bufalino (a majestic, menacing Joe Pesci.)

Frank slowly, very slowly rises up in the national court of organized crime, and eventually becomes a confidante and body guard for Jimmy Hoffa, and local union president, loved and feared by all.


But starting out, Frank becomes known as “A man who paints houses,” Mafia code for a perfect killer. That’s his calling card. Frank delivers death for the anointed of the brotherhood of killers.

Scorsese pulls in, one at a time, various thugs and famous “made men,” for us to meet. As they appear on screen, a note appears under their faces, telling us how they died and when.

Albert Pacino is here as a very un-Italian Jimmy Hoffa, who was a racist German-Irish flamethrower who became the all powerful President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union until his mysterious death. Scorsese films what he thinks happened to the body.

“The Irishman” is a menu of fabulous actors mostly, of course, hand picked by Scorsese to keep the blood line pure.

There are notable exceptions. Anna Paquin (Oscar winner at age 11 for “The Piano”) plays Sheeran’s daughter, with not much to do but glower at her father.

Harvey Keitel appears briefly as Angelo Bruno, and Stephen Graham as Anthony Provenzano.


The film’s music, mostly a mix of the hit tunes of the several decades is pasted into the original score by Robbie Robertson.

The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is capably done but sort of standard, unlike his great work in Scorsese’s “Silence.”

And of course, editing is by the celebrated and revered Thelma Schoonmaker. You’ll notice that right away.

As all the mobsters keep presenting the mantra “It is what it is,” “Irishman” is just that. It is brilliantly directed, breathtakingly acted by the “three amigos,” De Niro, Pacino and especially the amazing Pesci who never, never once, ever raises his voice, but like De Niro, simply sits quietly and lets his years of art flow out of his eyes.

“The Irishman,” three and a half hours of gifted work, manages, without lighting any rockets, to deliver a funeral oration for what may be the last of the genre.

In this aging reviewer’s opinion, “The Godfather,” one and two, was artistry, and an historic opera. “The Irishman,” is simply a damn good movie.

Scorsese is a master of movie making deserving of his honors. Francis Ford Coppola was, in those two films, The Da Vinci of his profession. It is what it is.


J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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