The Irishman: Love and loyalty in the mafia

3 months ago Triangle 0

Written by: Jake Love, staff writer

*Spoiler Warning

Few have accumulated a directing resume equal to that of Martin Scorsese. With films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas under his belt, some consider him the greatest film director of all time. His new crime epic The Irishman, rated R for graphic mafia violence and severely strong and vulgar language, is no exception to his history of excellence. 

The Irishman is based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and the Closing on the Case of Jimmy Hoffa, which is about the author’s interview with mafia hitman and International Brotherhood of Teamsters official Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. The film is biographical, following Sheeran from his time in combat during World War 2 to the start of his involvement with the Italian Buffalino crime family of Philadelphia in his 40s and finally his death at age 83. 

The book’s title actually comes from a telephone conversation in which Sheeran and Hoffa first met that Sheeran told Brandt about, in which Hoffa says to Sheeran, “I heard you paint houses,” which is code for “I heard you kill people,” the paint being blood that hits the wall after a mafia hit. Sheeran responded by saying “Yes, I do. And I do my own carpentry too,” meaning Sheeran also disposes of the bodies himself. To this, Hoffa chuckled and said, “That’s good.” 

The film recounts Sheeran’s close friendship with mobster Russell and Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, as well as Sheeran’s many killings of other mobsters including Joe Gallo and later Hoffa himself. While some say Sheeran’s claims about how many people he killed is false, others say his claims are possibly true

The film features a host of acclaimed actors, including long-time collaborators of Scorsese Robert Deniro as Sheeran and Joe Pesci as Buffalino, and Al Pacino as Hoffa. 

As a long-time lover of Scorsese’s films, The Irishman didn’t disappoint me. It is full of Scorsese’s hallmarks such as gritty realism, intense action and characters wrestling with a conflicted conscience. Although not everyone may be able to stomach its pervasive language and wholesale violence (it’s realistic portrayal of the mafia earned an R-rating), I think The Irishman is a near-perfect film, as it produces an engaging story, wonderfully entertaining acting and an investigation of universal themes that is bound to leave viewers satisfied. 

*Warning: before reading ahead, this review contains some mild spoilers of The Irishman. 

Starting with the performances, I was awestruck by the believability of these actors. Not only did the performances show versatility (particularly Pesci’s performance of the cold and calculating Buffalino, which is quite contrary to Pesci’s persona), but they somehow brought a touch of humanity to these brutal mafia characters. 

The characters are shown as loving towards each other and their families, especially Hoffa, who Pacino plays as sweet and grandfatherly to his own and Sheeran’s family. This approach – portraying these murderous mafia men as down-to-earth family men – is something I enjoyed because it really played on the theme of loyalty. It’s as though the mantra of these characters was “if you’re with me, I’ll protect you, but if you’re against me, watch out.” 

Pacino’s performance was in reality the best. As Hoffa, Pacino was simultaneously passionate, proud, violent, loving and protective, and his energy made him irresistible to watch. I also loved De Niro’s portrayal of Sheeran, which was that of a man who valued loyalty above all, even his family and moral integrity, and because he really showed the pain that was inflicted. 

Another reason I enjoyed the story is because it focused on the consequences of being a violent person that afflicted Sheeran’s soul throughout his life. The guilt of some of his actions stuck with him to the end of the film, and I could really feel the pain of his character. It adds a great deal of depth to the film. 

Finally, I really like how Scorsese used these characters to play on the themes of love and loyalty. 

In the film, Sheeran’s friendships with Hoffa and Buffalino really are characterized by feelings of love and care. They look out for each other, and their families even have functions together. When the men talk to each other, you can feel the tenderness in their dialogue, and I think films of today don’t portray tenderness in men’s friendships with each other nearly as much as they should.

However, the film’s most prominent theme is loyalty, which added to the film’s depth and meaningfulness. Sheeran struggled with loyalty the most out of all the characters, another painful internal conflict that Scorsese portrays. This film looks at loyalty from an objective and thought-provoking viewpoint, which is a great improvement to this film. 

In conclusion, The Irishman is a brilliant film, maybe the best film I’ve seen this year. If you don’t like films that have graphic violence, strong and vulgar language, 3.5-hour-long runtimes and overall darkness, then you shouldn’t watch this movie. 

But if you are willing to watch such a film, I absolutely recommend viewing The Irishman. The film is on Netflix, and out in theatres now. 

*Note: this article expresses the ideas and opinions of the author and are not a reflection of the views of the Triangle or Bryan College as a whole.

Jake Love is a staff writer for the Triangle. He is an English major with an emphasis on creative writing and commutes from Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. He enjoys reading and consuming large amounts of caffeine.