The Irishman – the highly anticipated Martin Scorsese epic – will take over Netflix and a limited number of cinemas in just a few weeks time. Like many of his films, The Irishman is based in fact with a sprinkling of fiction. Having brought back together some of his most frequent collaborators, The Irishman is expected to impress critics and fans. But just how much of the upcoming film is a true story?
What is the true story behind The Irishman?
The story of The Irishman is enshrined in history and claims made by Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran.
But for those wishing to avoid spoilers, even the real life story may reveal too much and take some of the surprise from the movie.
The Irishman follows Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro, a labour union official who was accused of having links to the Bufalino crime family.
Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in The Irishman
Sheeran was born in Pennsylvania in 2910, to a house painter and his wife, and grew in a working class borough on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
He was known as The Irishman due to his Irish Catholic descent, and his involvement with mobsters hailing from Sicilian/Italian American crime families, and was also well remembered for his height of 6 ft 4 in.
He served in the United States Army during the Second World War, enlisting in 1941, serving 411 days of combat duty, which is significant considering the average amount of time to serve was around 100 days.
Sheeran, in Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses which chronicles his life, claimed to have been involved in some incredibly well-known battles, including Battle of the Bulge, adding that he went AWOL to chase women and drink.
Russell Bufalino and Jimmy Hoffa
He told Brandt he had participated in some war crimes, including the Dachau massacre of German prisoners and other attempts to degrade POWs.
After Sheeran was discharged from the army in 1945, he became a truck driver and, according to Brandt’s book, started committing crimes on the side for extra money, even including being a hitman.
Throughout this time he became close friends with Mafia bosses Russell Bufalino and Angelo Bruno, who are played by Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in the Martin Scorsese movie.
Bufalino was, for the time he knew Sheeran, the head of the Bufalino crime family and was known as a powerful leader, despite coming from a relatively small Mafia family.
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman
He eventually hired Sheeran as his driver, and also is understood to have used Sheeran as an aid to help him maintain his personal affairs over the years.
Sheeran also claimed he was responsible for the shooting of Joe Gallo, a well-known gangster in the then-called Profaci crime family, which later became known as the Colombo crime family.
But the main crux of the story focused upon in The Irishman is around Bufalino and Sheeran’s alleged involvement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labour union and its then boss Jimmy Hoffa, played in the film by Al Pacino.
The labour union represents blue-collar and professional workers from a diverse group of sectors, but it was greatly influenced by organised crime through Hoffa’s reign.
Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in The Irishman
Hoffa became involved with Mafia due to his desire to unify and expand trucking unions, meaning he had to make accommodation and arrangements with a number of gangsters.
After imprisonment and conviction of crimes, Hoffa disappeared in a carp park in a suburb of Detroit, having told others he was expected to meet two Mafia leaders, Anthony Giacalone and Anthony Provenzano, the second of which had been vice president of the Teamsters during Hoffa’s reign.
He was never found and was declared dead seven years later but Sheeran claimed he was behind the killing, despite Hoffa’s body never being discovered.
Judging by the trailer of the film, Scorsese has chosen to add levity to this story, and tell the events from Sheeran’s point of view, as the script itself is based on Brandt’s book.
The Irishman is in cinemas for a limited time from November 8, before its release on Netflix on November 22