A lot of crime historians and criminals dispute Frank Sheeran’s version of the events surrounding the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. They say he’s full of it…That he’s a wanna be gangster at best.
Be that as it may, I think he tells the truth about a lot of it.
Not that I’m an expert on the subject–thank the Lord–but I had a friend whose uncle was mixed up with the “Dixie Mafia.” That was her story, anyway.
And from what she told me, Frank Sheeran very much resembles the kind of guy who commits murders for the mafia, a guy who drives into town, pays for everything with cash, does the deed and then vanishes like a puff a smoke in his Toyota Camry, or whatever.
(Back then, when Jimmy Hoffa was alive, it would have probably been a Ford LTD…Ugly car.)
Anyway, along the way, this guy–the killer, hitman–whatever–would stop at the same kind of coffee shop…would buy only one brand of gasoline…He would stay in only one type of motel, if he decided to stop.
Or he might drive straight through.
After he killed “Hoffa”–or whoever–he–the killer–would be killed by someone lying in wait in the coffee shop parking lot…Or at the gas station…Or by someone hiding in the closet, waiting for him to enter his motel room.
All very bleak and bleary. All apparently standard stuff in a sordid world, but stuff with the ring of truth.
That’s why I think Frank Sheeran is being truthful about murder, but not about the murder of Jimmy Hoffa. Once again, a matter of nuance rather than contradiction.
Sheeran killed people, yes, but they were people like himself. Small fish.
If he’d killed Hoffa, he would have been higher up in the food chain. And he would have never lived long enough to write a book about it.
In fact, he’d probably be dead within a few hours of his victim, if you want to call Hoffa that. According to my friend’s uncle (and Tony Soprano) mob guys never hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve to be hurt.
Of course mob guys lie a lot. We all know that.
Even so, from our perspective, it doesn’t really matter if Frank Sheeran (1920-2003 ) told the truth to Charles Brandt, the author of his memoir, I Hear You Paint Houses or not. Either way it provides excellent fodder for Martin Scorsese’s latest motion picture venture.
With the exception of Casino, Scorsese always mines the lower echelon of mob life for his crime dramas. With The Irishman, he scrapes the bottom of the well once again.
Robert De Niro plays the title character. His Frank Sheeran is an adept, lumbering thug–a combination of traits that suits his vocation and is prized by his three bosses, Russell Bufalino, (Joe Pesci) the boss of the Scranton mob, Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) the boss of the Philadelphia crime family and Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino) president of the Teamsters Union.
In other words Sheeran is no great intellect, but he’s a lot smarter than he looks.
Predictably, his bosses underestimate him to varying degrees. Pacino gives his best performance in decades as Hoffa, who underestimates the pug mobster most of all of all. Hoffa also happens to be the closest thing to a friend that Sheeran has and he is the only man that he truly respects. Therein lies the tragedy.
And that’s really what The Irishman is. It’s a dour, tragic character study. And that’s why it isn’t as palatable as Goodfellas, which is essentially as an action film, or as melodramatic as Taxi Driver or as thematically confident as Mean Streets.
There is no glamour here. No mania. But there is desperation and subtly.
Consequently, much of Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is underwhelming by design which, in the age of elaborate costly studio gimmicks, makes a bolder cinematic statement than does the groundbreaking but slightly distracting, de-aging special effects.
Likewise, the soundtrack, another Scorsese hallmark, is not souped up with strutting late sixties rockers by The Rolling Stones, or lilting wall of sound masterpieces like The Ronettes Be My Baby and The Crystals Then He Kissed Me. Instead it is infused the quaint doo-wop of The Five Satins In the Still of the Night and the austere Western warbling of Marty Robbins’ A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation.
And the violence?
It’s as realistically humdrum as two close range shots to the back of the head can be, except near the end when we know what is coming, but we don’t know exactly when. Then it is as disconcerting and on the edge of your seat as any thriller could ever hope to be.
In other words, it is filmmaking at its very best.
Oh…And it’s heartbreaking too, in it’s own quiet, austere, bleak and bleary way.