By Cynthia Citron
Having already run every conceivable plot line in the universe, television producers are returning for a visit to some of our favorite shows from nights of yore. We’ve already seen a movie update about the wonderful folks of “Downton Abbey”. And very soon Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt will appear in a 12-episode television series that will bring this hilarious couple from “Mad About You” into the present. And that much-discussed possibility of a reunion of the cast of “Friends” is tentatively scheduled for “soon”.
So it’s time for Martin Scorsese to reprise one of his greatest films, “Goodfellas”. This new version is called “The Irishman” and, like “Goodfellas”, it stars Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci and includes some of the same actors in both films: Samuel L.Jackson, Paul Sorvino, Chuck Low, Jim Norton, Mike Starr. “The Irishman” is fleshed out with Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, Steven Van Zandt, and a cast of nearly 40 other players.
“The Irishman”, in which DeNiro plays a truck driver named Frank Sheeran, marks his ninth film with Scorsese, his fourth with Al Pacino, and his seventh with Joe Pesci. The story itself comes from a 2004 novel titled “I Heard You Paint Houses” written by Charles Brandt, and the screenplay was written by Steven Zaillian.
The story begins accidentally when Sheeran’s old clunker of a truck breaks down. Pulling into a gas station, he is approached by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) who offers to help and does so quickly and adeptly. Unbeknownst to Sheeran, however, Bufalino is the powerful head of a brutal crime family. But when they bump into each other some time later and have a chat, Bufalino is charmed by Sheeran’s innocence and integrity and offers him a small job.
Very shortly Sheeran becomes Bufalino’s protege and trusted right hand man and begins taking jobs which involve a plethora of crimes, including murder. As he gains stature in the mob, he comes to the attention of Jimmy Hoffa, who admires the work he has done for Bufalino and offers him a position within his own bailiwick. With Bufalino’s encouragement, Sheeran accepts the job.
At this point Hoffa heads the largest Teamsters union in the country and considers himself one of the most important people in the world. And Al Pacino does a fantastic job of portraying Hoffa as the hateful, masterful egomaniac that Hoffa purportedly was in real life. As does DeNiro as the only Irishman in this mob of Italians.
This straight-forward tale has been staged as the reminiscence of Sheeran’s life as told by him as a dying man, sad and alone. As the story moves backward and forward in time DeNiro ages from 24 to 80, and the transition in his face and body, as well as his emotions, is startling but exquisitely done. And even though the film runs for three and
a half hours it is so moving and engrossing that you are sorry to see it end.
“The Irishman” is running now in special theaters in Los Angeles and will be streaming on Netflix beginning November 27.