The careers of Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese are intertwined. Between 1973 and 1995 the duo teamed up for eight films. In the last 20 years they worked together once for a short film made for Asian casinos in 2015.
Sitting across from me at the end of a day of interviews, De Niro insists the break wasn’t planned.
Marty and I had been wanting to do something for a while, a long time. You know, there's a big passage of time. We didn't do it. We had a couple of opportunities and it just was impossible for me to do it, be part of those films,” said De Niro.
De Niro and Scorsese planned to work together on a project about a retired hitman living on the west coast, a “stylized genre piece” that De Niro seems to feel unsure of. Then he recalled a book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” that he had talked about with screenwriter Eric Roth years before.
“I read it and then I said, ‘Marty, you've got to read this book because you're gonna see this is it. This is what we should be really thinking of doing.’”
“I Heard You Paint Houses” is the possibly-true story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a truck driver, hitman and high-ranking official in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He stood beside Jimmy Hoffa during the union leader’s highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
There’s more to Sheeran’s story, but he’d never admit to it.
De Niro says he was drawn to the richness of the material and its “grand historic component to it with the Hoffa character, not knowing what happened to him. Even the Joe Gallo character and a few others in thrown in there.”
It took years for screenwriter for the script to come together Steven Zaillian (‘Schindler’s List,” “Gangs of New York”) worked with author Charles Brandt. It took even longer for Scorsese and De Niro to find an open space in their busy schedules.
Joining De Niro on this journey is Al Pacino, who had never worked with Scorsese, and Joe Pesci, who was lured out of retirement.
The result of their labor is “The Irishman,” a brilliant film that spawns decades, crisscrosses through major points in history and furthers the argument that the De Niro and Scorsese combination might be the greatest pairing in cinematic history. That might sound like hyperbole but look at their resume.
“The Irishman” is now in select theaters and debuts on Netflix on November 27, 2019. The film runs for three and a half hours, but really should be seen on the big screen if it is playing in your area. I love the accessibility of Netflix and their commitment to giving artists the freedom they require to make the films they want to make, but there’s nothing that can replicate seeing a masterwork in a theater where the screen dwarfs the audience. You can always revisit the film from your couch; you won’t always be able to see it in the larger-than-life ratio that it deserves.