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Film / The Irishman

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"In the still of the night..."

"When I was young, I thought house painters painted houses. What did I know? I was a working guy. A business agent for Teamster Local 107 out of South Philly. One of a thousand working stiffs, until I wasn't no more. And then I started painting houses myself."
Frank Sheeran

The Irishman (alternatively titled I Heard You Paint Houses) is a 2019 crime biopic film directed by Martin Scorsese. After years of trying to get it off the ground, it was eventually produced by Netflix, and was released on the streaming service on November 27, 2019.

The film tells the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), an Irish-American mob hitman and World War II veteran who developed his skills during his service in Italy. Now an old man, he reflects on the events that defined his career as a hitman, particularly the role he played in the disappearance of his longtime friend, labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and his involvement with the Philadelphia crime family led by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci).

The film also stars Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno, Ray Romano as mob lawyer Bill Bufalino, Bobby Cannavale as Felix "Skinny Razor" DiTullio and Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran. Extensive Digital Deaging technology was used to make De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci look younger.

Previews: Teaser 1, Teaser 2, Trailer.

The Irishman contains examples of:

  • The '60s: The trailer shows a "Kennedy for President" sticker being put on a wall, as well as his funeral on TV.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino. At some point in early 1961, Russell instructs Frank to go to Baltimore to pick up a shipment from "a fairy" (i.e., gay man). This guy turns out to be David Ferrie (who was played by Pesci in Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK), who would later be associated with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
    • "Crazy" Joe Gallo, played by stand-up comic Sebastian Maniscalco, scoffs at Frank's attempts to quiet him down after insulting Russ, asking if Rickles (played by Jim Norton) is "the only one that can make jokes".
  • Adaptational Nationality: It's never mentioned in the film that Frank's mother, Mary (née Hanson), was of Swedish descent.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The Irishman is based on the novel I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa. However, the film's alternate title does use the book's name.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Frank has countless murders to his name, even carrying out hits on friends and colleagues if ordered, but he's remarkably polite to everybody in his life and takes genuine pride in becoming a union representative. Upon learning that the mob wants Hoffa dead, Frank tries (but fails) to call off the hit, and he truly wants his daughter Peggy to be part of his life.
    • Russell Bufalino is an even-tempered and genial mobster who often brokers peaceful solutions to mob feuds. He meets Frank by volunteering to help him fix his busted truck engine. After getting to know Frank's family, he makes a concerted effort to befriend Frank's daughter Peggy and seems genuinely hurt when she does not reciprocate.
    • Jimmy Hoffa is a thoroughly corrupt union boss who admits to stealing money and has significant mob ties. He's also a very gregarious and charming person who is sincerely devoted to the Teamsters and its members, at least at first.
  • All for Nothing: There is a lingering sense of nihilism over the film as we contrast the seeming huge importance of the Mafia power plays with the insignificance of Frank in his old age. This is made clearer in one of the final scenes where Frank's nurse can't recognize Jimmy Hoffa in a picture and admits to not knowing who he is, showing just how little all this ultimately meant: Jimmy Hoffa, his disappearance and all the incidents around it are ultimately forgotten with the passage of time just like Frank himself. This is underscored by the fact that almost every major figure we meet is introduced with a title card identifying the date and circumstances of their death; for all their self-importance and all the violence and intrigue they get involved in, the inevitability of death applies to them just as much as to everyone else, including the people whose deaths they order.
  • Amoral Attorney: Bill Bufalino, the Teamsters attorney played by Ray Romano, who sees no issue with Frank embezzling goods to make some extra money and turns out to be a cousin of mob boss Russell Bufalino.
  • Anachronic Order: The film cuts back and forth between Frank's years working his way up the Teamsters' and Mafia's respective ladders, a fateful road trip in 1975, and his latter days in a nursing home.
  • Anti-Climax: Done deliberately. When Frank murders Jimmy Hoffa, there isn't a dramatic scene of Frank telling Hoffa how he brought this on himself, or Hoffa giving a grandiose Face Death with Dignity speech. It's the same as all of Frank's other murders. Two quick shots to the head with no emotion or remorse, that's it.
  • Anyone Can Die: ...and everyone will, by the film's reckoning. This is reinforced over the course of the film by the constant use of subtitle cards under various characters listing the dates and (often bloody) methods of their ends.
  • Arc Words: “It is what it is...”
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Peggy asking Frank why he hasn't yet called Jo Hoffa a full two days after Jimmy's disappearance. Frank's lack of a good answer convinces Peggy, correctly, that he had something to do with it. This is notably Anna Paquin's only line in the film,note  specifically to make it stand out.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Frank makes it very clear when planning the route to Detroit they are crossing Ohio by way of Interstate 80, most of which comprises the Ohio Turnpike. The Ohio Turnpike traverses the most northerly part of the state. At one point on the group's drive, we see a road sign stating they are 64 miles from Columbus, 86 miles from Dayton, and 272 miles from Detroit. Firstly, nowhere on the Turnpike is one only 64 miles from Columbus and 86 miles from Dayton (it's much further). Secondly, nowhere on the Turnpike would both places be listed as control cities on the same sign. Thirdly, even at the extreme eastern edge of the state, it's only about 230 miles to Detroit when one crosses into Ohio from Pennsylvania on 80. We see this sign around the time they stop in Fremont, which is only 90 miles from Detroit.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Allen Dorfman was murdered in 1983, while the movie states he was killed in 1979.
    • The scene with the news reporting on John Kennedy's assassination makes it appear as if the news flash had reported the events almost instantly; in fact, it took almost an hour between the initial breaking news broadcast announcing the assassination attempt to the confirmation that Kennedy was indeed killed in Dallas.
    • Joe Gallo's assassination, which admittedly follows one of the more dubious claims from Frank Sheeran's book. Eyewitness accounts and contemporary news reports agreed that a team of four gunmen killed Gallo,note  while the movie shows Frank as the sole assassin.
    • On a similar vein, former mob boss Michael Franzese also confirms that it wasn't Frank Sheeran who killed Jimmy Hoffa, making a major part of the movie completely ahistorical.
  • Artistic License – Prison: At the end, when Frank and Russell are eating bread and drinking grape juice together in the prison mess hall, the grape juice is in a glass bottle. They wouldn't be allowed to have a glass bottle in prison, it's a potential weapon.
  • Ax-Crazy: Tony Pro...
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The film is based on Frank Sheeran's memoir, which was published as a true story, but many historians believe it to be a fabrication. Same goes for former New York mobster and caporegime Michael Franzese.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Frank Sheeran gets around in the history of 20th-century America, most prominently by providing a helping hand in the Bay of Pigs invasion. And of course, being responsible for the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.
  • Berserk Button: Never be late for a meeting with Jimmy Hoffa.
  • Boom, Headshot!: This being a mob film, there are many, many of these depicted. Jimmy Hoffa gets two, courtesy of Frank.
  • Call-Back
    • When Frank is fired for engaging in a scheme to steal beef from his trucks, Bill Bufalino tells him that he could escape punishment if he gives up some names. Later, when Frank is a senior Teamsters executive, he says the same thing to a young truck driver accused of theft.
    • By the end of the film, Frank requests his priest leave his door open a bit when he departs, the same as Jimmy Hoffa once asked him, symbolizing a small "way out" they both wish they had.
    • During their later time in prison, Frank and Russell eat bread and drink grape juice together, with Russell struggling to eat due to his advanced age. This serves as a sad mirror of the time when they ate bread and drank wine together as part of the Mob.
  • The Cameo:
    • Rapper and TV presenter Action Bronson makes his film debut as the man who sells a coffin to Frank.
    • Dascha Polanco from Orange Is the New Black appears in the final scene putting a button on the film's major themes, as Frank's nurse who barely recognizes the name Jimmy Hoffa, showing just how little any of the mob's actions meant in the end.
    • Jack Huston appears briefly as Robert F. Kennedy, who grills Jimmy Hoffa at a congressional hearing.
  • The Charmer: Hoffa is a charming, gregarious man who has built an empire out of uniting people under his banner through the force of his personality. It's notable that Frank's daughter Peggy actively dislikes the sedate Russell Bufalino but adores the feisty Hoffa, even though they're both Affably Evil crooks who treat her just as nicely.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Loyalty is a hard thing to come by in the criminal world, so everyone in the film tends to switch sides at least once. Protagonist Frank Sheeran is truly remarkable in-story for his high degree of loyalty compared to everyone else. And even so, by the end, he ends up betraying Jimmy Hoffa.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: A lot of Frank's murders are committed right out on the sidewalk, just walking up to the victim and putting a few bullets in them. Then there's Crazy Joey Gallo, shot to death in a busy restaurant while dining with his wife and 11-year-old daughter. Frank justifies this trope, explaining that using loud guns to scare bystanders creates plenty of confusion. In the book, he also explains that witnesses know better than to give police an accurate description of a shooter, since that would put the witness next on the list to get whacked.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Frank literally stomps on a curb, and on the easily breakable fingers of a grocer, after the grocer shoved his daughter Peggy at work.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat:
    • "Sally Bugs" Briguglio strangles Tony Castellito from the backseat of a moving car.
    • Also referenced when an edgy Frank takes a short ride with Sally and Chuckie and insists on taking the back seat, even though it's wet with frozen fish runoff.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "I heard you paint houses." The euphemism is all but explained very early on via scene with a Gory Discretion Shot with splatter on an unpainted wall, making it abundantly clear what kind of "paint" they're referring to.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Characters make prejudiced cracks against other races and religions fairly regularly, the Italians and the Jewish being the most frequent targets.
    • One reason other mobsters hate "Crazy Joe" Gallo so much is that he employs black and Hispanic criminals in his crew alongside "his own people."
    • The fact that Russ won't let people smoke in his car (which necessitates frequent stops for Carrie and Irene to light up) is considered very unusual.
  • Dig Your Own Grave: A flashback to Frank's Army days shows him forcing two German soldiers to dig their own graves, after which he shoots them to death.
  • Disposing of a Body: Jimmy Hoffa's body is shown being burned in a crematorium after Frank kills him, providing an explanation for why Hoffa's body has never been found after his disappearance.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • It's implied that the government broke up the Teamsters and put many of its leaders in prison because Jimmy Hoffa ordered the American flag which was hanging at half mast out of respect for JFK after he was assassinated to hang at full mast, and the heartless comments to the press showing No Sympathy — let alone empathy — for the Kennedy family.
    • The grocer physically abusing Peggy is inexcusable, not to mention blaming it on her, but Frank had no right to beat him half to death.
  • Double-Meaning Title: There are multiple Irishmen involved in the plot: the viewpoint character Frank Sheeran, labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa, and President John F. Kennedy's family.
  • Downer Ending: Frank murders Jimmy Hoffa and, with the help of Bufalino family associates, gets away with it. Unfortunately, Frank's daughter Peggy, who became friendly with Hoffa, realizes what her father has done, and never speaks to him again. Frank's relationships with his other daughters also suffers. Eventually, Frank's wife and all his friends and associates predecease him, and with his children no longer speaking to him, he is destined to die alone in a nursing home. Furthermore, the march of time means that barely anyone remembers or cares about Jimmy Hoffa and the events leading to his disappearance, rendering Frank's actions meaningless.
  • Dying Alone: By the end of his life, most of Frank's mob friends have died of old age, disease or violence, his wife passes away, and his daughters want nothing to do with him. He's so alone that he has to arrange his own impending funeral.
  • Epic Movie: The movie runs 209 minutes and covers nearly 70 years of history, including the rise and decline of the American mafia, World War II, the decline of organized labor, and the assassination of JFK, among other things.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: A Scorsese tradition.
    • The first shot of the movie is a long tracking shot through the old folks' home where Frank lives, snaking through the halls and doorways before ending with Frank in the common room.
    • The Real Life murder of Albert Anastasia is dramatized by a complicated tracking shot that starts with Anastasia getting a shave, then tracks through a shopping area following the various Mob hoods there to make the hit, finally freezing on a display in a florist's shot as Anastasia is shot to death in the barbershop offscreen.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Even though Russell Bufalino has forbidden anyone from smoking in his car, when his wife insists on lighting up, Russell doesn't start a fight. He just has the car pull over so she can smoke. While waiting, he and Frank flash back to how they met, when Russell volunteered to help Frank fix his truck. These scenes contrast with a montage of Frank explaining how Russell is a big-shot mobster, establishing Russell as Affably Evil.
    • Jimmy Hoffa is introduced during a phone call with Russell. After Russell calls Frank over and gives him the phone, his first words are "I heard you paint houses?" This makes it clear that not only is Hoffa well aware of the type of people he is dealing with in the Mob, he is willing to hire a known hitman in the underworld to help him out, establishing his corrupt nature and what he is willing to do to keep control of the Teamsters.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: For all his heinous deeds and his lack of remorse in committing them, Frank truly loves his daughters, especially Peggy.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: An elderly Frank refuses to talk to the Feds about Jimmy Hoffa without his lawyer Bill, only for them to tell him that Bill and everybody he knew back in the day are already dead.
  • Everybody Smokes: Given the time period the movie takes place in, this is to be expected. Only a select few like Russell, Frank, and Hoffa don't smoke. This unfortunately claims the life of Frank's second wife through lung cancer. After that, it's implied Frank, too, gives up smoking.
  • Evil Is Petty: A running theme throughout the movie.
    • Jimmy Hoffa is less cruel and destructive than his Mafia compatriots, but he's still a corrupt bully who holds people in contempt if they're even a few minutes late to a meeting and who refuses to let his fellow Teamsters lower the American flag on the day JFK is assassinated.
    • Tony Pro and Hoffa's feud is perpetuated by trivialities. Pro is enraged by a casual slight made at his Italian background and holds it against Hoffa for years. Hoffa hates that Pro makes him wait 15 minutes for a meeting and wears casual clothing. When both refuse to apologize for their minor offenses, they start a brawl.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Par for the course for a Scorsese film, the mob is portrayed as a gang of unsentimental sociopaths who will have people killed without a second thought if they even seem like they might be inconvenient to their goals. On the other hand, Jimmy Hoffa isn't much better, resorting to dirty tricks in order to ensure the Teamsters get their way. And in the middle of it all is Frank, who will train his gun on whomever his bosses tell him to with little hesitation. The only real innocents are Frank's daughters, who play little to no role in the film's events and completely shun their father by the end of his life.
  • External Combustion:
    • Used for a Black Comedy joke. A guy named Whispers hires Frank for a job. Frank clarifies that it was "the other Whispers", not the guy who was killed by a car bomb. Then there's a quick cutaway to a car exploding.
    • Later there's a car bomb and a boat bomb as Hoffa and Fitzsimmons fight for control of the Teamsters. The sequence ends with Hoffa's wife Jo flinching before starting her car, which does not blow up, using the previously seen footage of Whisper's car blowing up as a fake out.
  • Fatal Flaw: Hoffa's pride and ego. It literally gets him killed.
  • Flashback Within a Flashback: Most of the movie is a story told by a very old Frank in a nursing home. In the story, Frank and Russell flashback to when they first met at a Texaco gas station.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: A dead-eyed, sociopathic mob hitman nicknamed "Sally Bugs".
  • For Want Of A Nail:
    • Sally Bugs is killed because Bufalino thinks he talked to the feds, evidenced by him going to a federal building without telling anyone. Turns out Sally did tell someone. That person just forgot to tell someone else. His murder was wholly pointless based on bad communication.
    • If Frank's truck hadn't broke down at that gas station on that day at that time, he'd likely never have met Russell Bufalino and embarked on everything else in the movie.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The fact that this film will cover Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance and the aftermath.
  • Foreshadowing: Interspersed throughout much of the film are scenes of Frank, Russell, and their wives taking a road trip to attend a wedding. Blink and you'll miss it, but as Frank's getting ready to leave in an early scene, the wedding invitation is dated for July 31, 1975 ... the day after Jimmy Hoffa disappeared forever.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Salvatore "Sally Bugs" Briguglio, who commits and abets brutal murders while decked out in a pair of Coke bottle glasses.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: At the end, when Frank asks the priest leaving his room to leave the door open just a little, on the table next to the door is a framed picture of his daughter Peggy. The daughter who stopped speaking to him years ago and won't even look at him.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Frank's experience as a WWII veteran who killed without remorse led to him becoming a mob hitman.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Frank Sheeran starts off as an average truck driver, but he goes on to become one of the most prolific killers employed by the mob.
    • A lesser example is Frank Fitzsimmons, who is treated by Hoffa as a toadying Number Two for most of the movie, but when Hoffa ends up in prison he takes over the Teamsters and refuses to relinquish power afterwards. While Fitz isn't any less corrupt than Hoffa, he's better at avoiding bad publicity and uses his connections (including his friendship with Richard Nixon) to solidify power.
  • Furnace Body Disposal: Jimmy Hoffa's body is disposed of in this way.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Quite possibly one of the bitterest, most depressing deconstructions ever filmed of the entire Mafioso mythos:
    • If associating with hostile criminals, making tough decisions, ruining your life, and killing a great friend is not enough, in the end, all you get in the modern day is to create resentment among your loved ones and live a lonely life.
    • This article emphasizes how well the last half-hour of the movie deconstructs the aftermath of the classic American Mafia, particularly from Mafia movies like GoodFellas where the aftermath of said lifestyle in modern times is never shown. The result of such deconstruction is an incredibly depressing epilogue to the genre. In many ways, the film undermines what came before, and the central characters don't go out in a blaze of glory. Instead, they march towards a lonely and desiccated retirement where everything they worked for means nothing for modern times. The movie drives home relentlessly how men like Frank, Russell, Jimmy, and other wiseguys are nothing but a pitiful shadow of what they once were. In other words, they are just people who belong to the past. All these attributes make this film one of the biggest deconstructions ever made of the Mafia genre, which is especially remarkable considering that Scorsese's own GoodFellas was already a deconstruction of its own film genre (albeit one that was nevertheless accused of still making it look quite cool), yet this film takes things to a new level of deconstruction, especially in the downfall of the classic American Mafia.
    • Frank Sheeran himself is a Deconstructed Character Archetype of characters such as Henry Hill and Jimmy "The Gent" Conway, showing just how miserable and pitiful a man like them could become if they reached old age and lived in modern times.
  • The Ghost: John F. Kennedy looms over the narrative but never makes a physical appearance (except in TV Stock Footage).
  • Godzilla Threshold: A TV reporter mentions in the wake of Gallo's death that Little Italy, where he was killed, had long been considered neutral territory by the mob as a whole, implying he should reasonably have felt safe there.note 
  • Grand Finale: Given that it had been a long time that Martin Scorsese was not directing a Mafia movie again, adding to the fact that this movie brings together three legendary Mafia film actors (Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino), many see this movie as the grand finale to Scorsese's Mafia movies. Quite simple, The Irishman marks the end of an era and the ultimate deconstruction.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: As friendly as he can be, Hoffa does a very bad job controlling his temper, and won't hesitate to assault people physically when they push his buttons, even fellow Teamsters or well-connected mobsters.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Jimmy Hoffa does not do well when Robert F. Kennedy grills him during a Congressional hearing on Mafia infiltration of the Teamsters.
  • He Knows Too Much: This is ultimately what gets the hit put on Hoffa. After hearing that the Mob wants him away from Teamsters activities for good, he starts to threaten them with information he can go to the Feds with. Even Russell, who was trying his best to get Hoffa to step down from trying to take back the Teamsters peacefully, gives up on Hoffa once Hoffa threatens him and Fat Tony Salerno at Frank's Teamsters award party, sealing his fate.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Russell rediscovers his faith while in prison, and his final appearance in the film has him being taken to Sunday Mass in a wheelchair.
    • Frank seems to have had one of these as well, as he is talks regularly with a priest while in the nursing home. Whether it's sincere or if he just wants someone to talk to is not revealed. However, note Russell's last words to Frank in the prison, when Frank expressed surprise that he was going to the prison chapel.
    Frank: Church?
    Russell: Don't laugh. You'll see. You'll see.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of them. Frank Sheeran was a real Teamsters boss who went to prison. Whether or not he embellished his background (as presented in the memoir and film) is debatable.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade:
    • In the book, Frank describes going on many hits on direct orders from Jimmy Hoffa. Leaving aside questions of the book's veracity, Hoffa is never shown directly ordering a killing in the movie.
    • Chuckie O'Brien is often suspected of having been the man who drove Hoffa to his death. While that is depicted in this film, he is wholly unaware and Sheerhan emphasizes he was the victim of an overzealous Justice Department desperate to convict the accomplices of Hoffa's murder.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • For most of the Kennedy family except for Bobby Kennedy (who hated Hoffa every bit as much as the movie shows). Kennedy patriarch Joe Sr. is explicitly tied with the Mafia and helped rig John Kennedy's first election to Congress. While Joe Kennedy's relationship with the mob is still a matter of dispute, claims that he worked as a bootlegger himself during Prohibition are generally considered a myth. The film repeats rumors of his rigging the 1960 presidential election to swing Illinois to Jack by Sam Giancana, a claim which is widely believed, but probably impossible to prove.
    • Richard Nixon is a regular golf buddy with Fitz, the leader of the Teamsters and a stooge of the Mafia. Nixon did cultivate an alliance with the Teamsters, and was alleged to have pardoned Hoffa in exchange for illegal campaign donations in 1972. note  On the other hand, crime historians Jeff Burbank notes that while Nixon had second degree connections with organized crimenote  and certainly was a Corrupt Politician in his own right, he also prosecuted a number of leading mob bosses and pushed for passage of the RICO Act.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Explored. Cold-blooded as he is, Frank is not an utter monster; two genuine and powerful friendships humanize him and they greatly test his emotional fortitude when the one demands the death of the other. He trips over himself when he goes to confession at the end, unsure if he's truly seeking absolution but believing he cares enough to try; he confesses that he is disgusted with himself for having made that phone call to Hoffa's widow, made one by his own hand, but seems unable to feel true remorse for having committed his murders, or to understand the grief he'd caused the bereaved families. Ultimately, he is simply a sad old man, disowned by his family and facing the twilight of his life alone.
  • Honor Before Reason: Frank refuses to give any further information about Jimmy Hoffa to the Feds in present day, despite everyone else involved being dead or too old to matter, all for a pointless code.
  • Hypocrite: Jimmy Hoffa, who built his career with Mafia help, blasts Tony Pro for his mob connections during the Union election.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Frank's daughter Peggy befriends and greatly admires the much older Jimmy Hoffa. When she puts together how he "disappeared", it utterly destroys her already shaky relationship with her father.
  • Ironic Echo: Russell and Frank repeat their Italian dialogue from their first dinner over the bread and grape juice they eat when in prison together.
  • It's Personal: How Frank sees Bobby Kennedy's singleminded pursuit of Jimmy Hoffa, even forming a special task force solely for the purpose of putting him in jail.
  • Karma Houdini: Played with. Frank never does time for any of his murders, especially for killing Jimmy Hoffa. But he does do prison time for union-related fraud when the government comes down hard on the Teamsters after JFK's assassination. Along the way, he also alienates his family and is left to wonder "Was It Really Worth It?" in his old years.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: By the end of the movie, Hoffa and Sally Bugs are dead, Tony Pro, Tony Salerno and Russ have been hauled off to jail and Frank is left alone in his old age to ponder Was It Really Worth It?.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Subverted with Jimmy Hoffa. He refuses to walk away and let the Teamsters go, even after he clearly understands how he is making enemies of the Mob and putting his life in danger, to the point he goes into hiding and only goes anywhere with people he trusts, which is why Frank was chosen to do the hit.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Over the course of the film subtitles flash on several characters listing the date and (incredibly violent/depressing) causes of their future deaths. The primary exception is Tony Jack, who is listed as dying of natural causes in 2001 and being "well-liked by all".note 
  • Loved by All: The film has a recurring motif whereby the causes of several characters' deaths are displayed on screen upon their introduction. When it's time to talk about Tony Jack, he is described as "dying of old age in 2001 and by all accounts, well-liked by all".
  • The Mafia: Frank works for the organization as a contract killer for the Philadelphia-based Bruno crime family but since he is an Irish-American he cannot become a "made man" or "wiseguy" so instead he's an associate.
  • Meaningful Echo: Frank, as president of Local 326, repeating word for word the advice Bill Bufalino gave him years before when he was in the same situation.
  • Meaningful Look: Frank and Russell share one hell of a look at Crazy Joe's birthday party at the Copa. Joe stupidly causes a scene for laughs, drawing attention to the fact that he, his entourage, and many people in attendance are Mafiosi; moving to their table, he then goes so far as to insult Russell's IACRL pin by calling it "that bullshit league" (an allusion to the hit he possibly took out on Joe Columbo that started a war). Russell, visibly restraining himself, resumes dinner as if nothing's happened... and, after a sip of wine, pointedly glances at Frank to let him know Gallo is now dead. Frank, in turn, doesn't say a word, but commits himself to killing Joe.
  • Mood Whiplash: As with any of Scorsese's gangster movies, like Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed, there's the usual, whiplash-inducing juxtaposition of petty, humorous arguments with violence. But there's also a sharp tonal divide between the movie's conventional (by Scorsese standards) first 2½ hours and its quiet, slow-paced and increasingly nihilistic final hour as Frank realizes he's been ordered to kill Hoffa, starkly carries out the murder, and spends the next three decades growing old and wallowing in regret, alone.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe, Peggy realizes that Frank murdered Hoffa and refuses to speak to him for the rest of his life.
  • The Napoleon: Tony Pro, a.k.a. "The Little Man," is a diminutive New Jersey mobster and union leader with an extremely fiery temper.
  • Oh, Crap!: Frank undergoes a silent version of this when he realizes that not only has Jimmy Hoffa been marked for death, but he himself is to carry out the hit regardless of his personal feelings toward the man.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • Averted, given that most of the characters are based on real people. There are two Jameses, three Tonys, and five Franks among the cast.
    • Lampshaded by Hoffa, who when referring to the multiple Tonys remarks that Italians can only come up with one name.note 
  • Opposed Mentors: Frank spends most of the film stuck between the influences of the calm, collected Russ and the fiery, charismatic Jimmy Hoffa, who are often at crossed purposes.
  • Papa Wolf: Frank beats the living shit out of a grocer who hits his young daughter. Ultimately, this is deconstructed when one of his daughters reveals that she and her sisters stopped going to him for help because they feared how he would retaliate. His violence ultimately made them less safe.
  • Personal Seals: Russell has obscenely expensive signet rings made for his innermost circle. When presenting Frank with his, he notes that "only three men in the world" have one (himself, Frank, and Angelo Bruno) and "only one of them is Irish".
  • Planet of Steves: Invoked by Hoffa with regard to Italians after Frank tells him that Tony is upset with his course of action:
    "Tony? Which Tony? They're all named Tony."
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Played straight and justified, since Frank preferred small-caliber, concealable pistols for his assassinations. They were easy to procure, didn't make too much noise, and didn't leave brains and blood splattered everywhere (including all over the man firing them). Most of the time, there's little evidence the victim was shot at all, until you see the red holes.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Sally Bugs wasn't rolling on anyone. He had a reason for going to the courthouse and just forgot to tell someone a bit closer to Bufalino than the first person he told. This gets him gunned down.
  • Postmodernism: This work, quite atypical by the standards of what would be expected in a typical Martin Scorsese work, could be considered the definitive example of postmodernism brought to mafia cinema. The film is full of patterns, symbolism, deconstructions towards archetypes typically found in the mafia genre, and references to other mafia genre films. Furthermore, Martin Scorsese has achieved in this film elements of meta-analysis and intertextuality, especially as the film draws to a close, not to mention the mix of genres (combining elements of mafia cinema, historical film and drama), juxtaposed interconnections (combining both real and fictional elements due to the context of the times), and the fact that the film presents ironic and critical approaches to mafia cinema. The film's deconstructive reflection near the end on old age and death further enhances its postmodern nature.
  • Pride: Hoffa just could not grasp that there are more powerful and ruthless men above him calling the shots. As far as he's concerned, the Teamsters are his union (even when he isn't president), and by virtue of that fact alone, he believes he can dictate orders to Mafia dons. Unsurprisingly, they eventually get tired of his attitude and have him killed.
  • Product Placement: People are always drinking soda pop when around The Teetotaler Jimmy Hoffa, and at least one will have a bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale.
  • Professional Killer: Frank is a hitman, professional and calculating enough to kill Crazy Joe Gallo point blank even in a crowded restaurant with his wife and child there. There's even a montage of him disposing of the guns he uses after each murder; it's implied he'd dumped dozens of them off that bridge.
  • Punctuality Is for Peasants: This is Jimmy Hoffa's pet peeve and Berserk Button in The Irishman. He expects punctuality from everyone, and flies into a rage if anyone is late for a meeting, viewing it as being disrespected. His opponents know this, and therefore show up late for meetings in order to get under his skin.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: You're a big bad, feared hitman, Frank? You kept your mouth shut like a good mafioso and did your time in the slammer? Where's it gotten you? All your friends are dead, some at your own hand. Your family despises you and won't have anything to do with you. You're alone, forced to plan your own funeral because nobody else cares. The world's moved on and forgotten you, leaving you stuck in a nursing home to waste away slowly till death claims you. Was It Really Worth It?
  • Redemption Rejection: Nearing the end of his life, Frank is visited by two FBI agents who once again ask him what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. By this point everybody who had anything to do with the murder besides Frank himself is already dead, most of his family has disowned him, and even the mafia has basically forgotten he exists. Nevertheless, he still refuses to tell them anything rather than come clean.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The cautious, collected Bufalino and loud, demonstrative Hoffa both serve as mentors and friends to Frank.
  • Rewatch Bonus: At the start of the film while Frank is still monologuing, there's a brief shot of him executing someone. His victim is facing away from him and the screen, but judging by his clothing he seems to be Jimmy Hoffa himself.
  • "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc: The film depicts Frank Sheeran's ascent from a lowly truck driver to a trusted Mafia associate, Teamster executive, and close friend of Jimmy Hoffa; however, in spite of the lengths he goes to in order to prevent his allies in organized crime from getting exposed, a cavalcade of minor crimes ends up sending them all to prison anyway, where most of them die pathetic, ignominious deaths. After getting out of prison, Frank himself spends his last days in a nursing home, crippled by arthritis and disowned by his own children.
  • Robbing the Mob Bank: Frank is paid to do a side job blowing up a laundry business by a small-time gangster named Whispers that wasn't officially sanctioned by Frank's mafia contacts. When they find out and summon him to explain himself, he tells him that Whispers told him it was owned by a bunch of Jewish businessmen. In fact, the company was partially owned by both the Kosher Nostra and the Italian family Boss, Angelo Bruno. Frank's life is spared because he did not know this in advance, and because his friend and patron Russell Bufalino strongly vouched for him to Angelo. When he offers to give back the money he made off the job anyway, they tell him to keep it, since Whispers "won't be needing it anyway".
  • The Starscream: Jimmy loathes Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, whom he views (correctly) as an ambitious loudmouth out to take over the Teamsters. Frank Fitzsimmons as well, though he's subtler than Tony.
  • Secret Test of Character: Attorney Bill Bufalino does this with his clients to see if they're a rat or not. If they're not, then he works his corrupt magic to help them beat whatever charges they face. If they are, then he tells the Mob and the person is dealt with.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Done several times for dramatic effect, notably:
    • Jimmy scolding Tony for showing up to a meeting late, which leads to an argument about the "appropriate" amount of time to keep someone waiting. The conversation eventually escalates to a physical confrontation that sets in motion Hoffa's downfall.
    • Sal demanding to know what kind of fish Chuckie had brought and left in the backseat, while driving to pick up Jimmy for the hit.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The bleak nihilism of the narratives makes a lot of the story seem meaningless. For example, the main conflict involves killing Jimmy Hoffa over his refusal to play ball with the mob. But even then, all the mobsters end up brought down either way, be it by violent murder, prison or simply old age doing them in, making the Hoffa murder seem ultimately pointless.
  • Shout-Out
    • To other Scorsese movies:
      • The film's opening echoes several lengthy tracking shots across his career to demonstrate the glamorous side of gangster life, most famously in GoodFellas, except this time it's moving through a sad, drab nursing home.
      • Henry Hill's opening monologue in GoodFellas also recalls the prelapsarian mob of that film's early scenes — "before Crazy Joe killed a boss and started a war", an event depicted in The Irishman.
      • The scene where Sheeran looks at his collection of guns laid carefully on a bed echoes a similar scene in Taxi Driver.
      • The entire subplot of the Teamsters funding the building of casinos and being secretly run by the mob is the main plot of Casino.
      • Just before Frank shoots him dead, Hoffa enters the house expecting a meeting, but finds nobody home and realizes the meeting was never going to take place. The scene closely mirrors Tommy's murder in GoodFellas.
      • Frank telling the audience during narration that the person chosen to hit someone in the Mob is usually a friend of the victim whom they trusted. This echoes Henry Hill pointing this out in GoodFellas as a way of him knowing he was being setup and why he ran to the Feds. Only Frank is the hitman this time, confirming Henry was right. And like Frank, the character Jimmy Conway who would have killed Henry, was also played by Robert De Niro.
    • The scene where Russell and Frank speak Italian to each other is very much an homage to The Godfather. Even the song playing in the background during that scene, which is the main theme from Touchez pas au grisbi, sounds very similar to the "Love Theme from The Godfather."
      • Frank telling Jimmy about the meeting also echoes Don Corleone's counsel to Michael that the friend who tells you about the ostensible peace conference is the one who's betrayed you already.
      • Then there's Jimmy being Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee (well, more precisely, before a hearing conducted by Attorney General Bobby Kennedy), which definitely recalls Michael Corleone being investigated by the Senate in The Godfather Part II.
    • While it is based on the circumstances under which it happened in Real Life, the scene where Frank kills Joe Gallo suggests the final scene of The Sopranos and what most theories hold happens after the screen goes black. It's helped by Frank's voiceover discussing how he usually goes to the bathroom in this situation — much like the suspected assassin in that scene does.
  • Shown Their Work: Frank Sheeran's stories remain controversial, but the film accurately depicts many events in mob history. Joe Gallo really was murdered at a seafood restaurant, and Albert Anastasia really was murdered while he was getting a shave. In the film, Al Pacino's Hoffa is seen hanging up a pay phone before he's picked up for his fatal rendezvous; in Real Life the last anyone ever heard from Jimmy Hoffa was when he called his wife from a pay phone at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant and complained that Tony Giacalone was late for the meeting.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: As if the tropes above and below didn’t clue you in, this is perhaps Scorsese’s most nihilistic work to date.
  • The Stoic:
    • No matter what degree of violence and drama is happening around him, Frank rarely lets on how he feels about it. He can even kill his good friend Hoffa as coldly as he would anyone else, only losing some degree of composure when he has to call his widow.
    • Russ remains emotionally detached at all times, even when ordering the murder of lifelong friends and associates. He only expresses some anger toward the very end of his life when he realizes how pointless it all turned out to be.
  • Sweet Tooth: Hoffa drinks only soda pop and scarfs down ice cream sundaes at every opportunity.
  • The Teetotaler: Jimmy Hoffa doesn't drink and won't let anyone else drink in his presence. He's usually seen drinking soda pop. One gangster goes so far as to spike a watermelon as a way to get drunk during a meeting with him.
  • Title Drop: Sort of. Hoffa opens his phone conversation with Frank by saying the title of the book, also the movie's original title.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Jimmy Hoffa. Mobsters who regularly have people murdered at the slightest provocation warn him politely to back off. Hoffa refuses all of them, sealing his fate.
  • Undignified Death: A recurring theme. All deaths in the film, violent or otherwise, tend to be shown as rather anti-climactic, pathetic affairs.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Despite the doubtful truthfulness of the book the film is based on, it takes what Frank says as the truth (although no one who figures in the story is alive in the film's present to contradict him). However, at one point late in the film he dismisses most of the criminal charges besides those he was eventually convicted of as "other bullshit", implying they were relatively minor. Titles immediately flash on screen noting that those charges included murder, arson, and kidnapping.
  • Villain of Another Story:
    • Several mobsters show up who are not connected to the main story, or else only tangentially connected. These are usually accompanied by on-screen text explaining who the person was and their eventual fate (generally a Karma Houdini Warranty).
    • Several references are made to the Watergate Scandal throughout the film. The most notable one reveals that FBI agent Huntnote  was actually E. Howard Hunt, one of those jailed over the scandal.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Jimmy Hoffa and Tony Pro are well-liked union leaders who receive cheering adoration from their union brothers, but they are little better than gangsters.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: Mob guys vote repeatedly under different names to help throw Illinois to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.
  • "Well Done, Dad!" Guy: Frank desperately wants to be a part of his daughter Peggy's life, but she's disturbed by his mob connections and capacity for violence. By the end of Frank's life, he's alienated all his daughters.
  • Who Shot JFK?: JFK's assassination is a key plot point in the film, though the story refrains from speculating who was responsible for it; the closest the film gets is when Russ implies to Frank the mob did it due to Kennedy's "betrayal" of them. Hoffa dismisses this as "fairy tales" and the film never outright confirms it. The book is more explicit in claiming that the Teamsters, or at least Tony Pro, played a role in Kennedy's death, but Scorsese didn't find this claim credible and decided to leave it out of the movie beyond a few vague hints.
    Russ: If they can whack a president [of a country], they can whack the president of a union.

"I ain't going nowhere."


Video Example(s):


You Know What You Did?!

The Kennedys are getting to Jimmy Hoffa and the recent actions of his employees are not helping one bit.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

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Main / SurroundedByIdiots

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