Martin Scorsese’s critically-acclaimed film “The Irishman” has made a dramatic entrance into the race for the Best Picture Oscar, making quite a splash in the early awards scene. The Netflix crime drama has earned five Golden Globe Award nominations, including two for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Al Pacino and Joe Pesci), one for Best Drama Motion Picture, another for Best Screenplay (Steven Zaillian), and finally, one for the great Martin Scorsese as Best Director of a Motion Picture. The film also won at the Gotham awards and has been awarded this year’s highest prize by the National Board of Review. This award has historically proven to be a reliable barometer for potential success at the Academy Awards. In a statement, Annie Schulhuf, president of the National Board of Review, expressed the NBR’s pleasure at awarding “The Irishman” as their best film of the year, stating that “Martin Scorsese’s masterful mob epic is a rich, moving, beautifully textured movie that represents the best in what cinema can be.”
The titular “Irishman,” played by Robert De Niro in what is undoubtedly one of his most notable roles, is Frank Sheeran, a World War II veteran who becomes a meat transporter and refrigerated truck driver. Trading one type of cadaver for another, Sheeran becomes a hitman for Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci, and the Bufalino crime family. On Bufalino’s orders, Sheeran goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa, masterfully played by Al Pacino. Hoffa, a well-known labor leader and union activist whose disappearance in 1975 was connected to mafia opposition to his labor leadership, is murdered in the film by Sheeran. Adapted from Charles Brandt’s true crime best seller, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” “The Irishman” screenplay purports to be the chronicle of Frank Sheeran’s memories. In actuality, Sheeran admitted to the murders of no fewer than 25 people on the mafia’s orders, including that of Jimmy Hoffa.
Scorsese works meticulously in the film to portray Sheeran’s life and recollections. Through the technological and digital magic of special effects, Scorsese renders the septuagenarian main and supporting actors young again. The film covers a thirty-year period in the history of the mafia and that of the United States, from the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs to Robert Kennedy’s nomination at the Justice Department, laying bare governmental and political corruption.
This story is also that of a man who learned to kill without batting an eye. Cold, remorseless, and fastidious, Sheeran did his job and nothing more. His moral dilemmas, if he truly has any, are illustrated and explored through his daughter. The mafia as portrayed in “The Irishman” is stripped of gimmicks and ruses – a business of murder, crime, and corruption. “The Irishman” thoughtfully explores Frank Sheeran’s emotional and moral demise at the hands of the mafia while persistently hoping for his redemption. Can Martin Scorsese hope for a Best Picture Oscar nod for “The Irishman”? The awards-season performance of the film thus far certainly seems to indicate that he can.