Sorry I’ve been away for awhile. A couple readers have waged recent complaints about missing my Opinion-Editorials. Strange, since when I’m active with them, residents start to come for my head, but I digress…

Here’s a light and holiday-friendly Opinion: THE IRISHMAN, Martin Scorsese’s new gangster movie, streaming on Netflix as of today, is a total masterpiece. It’s as good as THE GODFATHER. It knocked me right over. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour howl of regret, echoing across history to shake the earlier gangster masterpiece’s hand…

Plenty of other online reviews go into the storyline, which involves a years-long friendship between famed union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and his fellow teamster and sometime bodyguard Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who claimed before his death in 2003 to have carried out a mob hit on Hoffa in 1982. Hoffa’s disappearance, long puzzling to historians, gains no objective closure by way of Sheeran’s account, and yet THE IRISHMAN is built upon his story.

For Scorsese uses the tale to deliver more than mere historical drama. At the primary level, he’s sharing a story of a relationship between two friends, ones who come to feel like brothers before their interests finally end up conflicting. At a deeper level, though, THE IRISHMAN is a story about two warring tribes.

This lends the movie urgent applicability to our current day and age. 

My wife and I first saw it on Sunday, at Pruneyard Cinemas in Campbell. I’ve had it playing again on Netflix at different points throughout today. Again and again, I come back to the title…Why call it THE IRISHMAN?

The most obvious reason is Frank, the main character, an Irishman working among Italians. But hold on — when the movie makes outright use of the two words “The Irishman,” it’s in reference to U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Meanwhile, as it happens, Hoffa’s also an Irishman, not unlike Frank in that he does business with the Italians. 

The movie makes clear that Hoffa’s union was built in part on the back of organized crime. As such, Hoffa found himself indebted to the mob. The mob-Hoffa relationship enjoyed balance ‘til the labor leader ended up in prison; in his absence, his mob colleagues dipped freely into the union’s giant pension fund, enriching themselves at the expense of the very workers Hoffa sought to protect. When he was a free man again, Hoffa became an irritant to the gangsters, who’d grown fat and comfortable in his absence. 

They urge him to retire. He’s as stubborn as a boulder. Eventually, after umpteenth warnings, the mob elects to escalate…

So who’s The Irishman, then? Frank, Kennedy, or Hoffa? It’s all three, of course — and the title bears great meaning beyond them. For it’s the story of one tribe ascending beyond another, and yet still being dragged down by the gravity of the less ascendant tribe. 

Irish-Americans rose faster than Italian-Americans. Still, as of now, no Italian-American has ever graced The Oval Office ala Kennedy. Indeed, in the movie, Pacino, an Italian actor playing an Irishman, has great fun verbally brutalizing the Italians. It’s harsh talk, yet authentic-sounding. America is, after all, an experiment in mixing and blending different tribes.

The Irishman Hoffa needed the Italians, says the movie. He needed their security, their cunning, their muscle, their violence. Being Irish, however, and operating within channels of greater legitimacy, Hoffa couldn’t have dreamed of that very muscle being the one that finally choked him.

There you have the title’s meaning, I think. It’s a movie about how each group, in its time, has its place and its way, and how sometimes one group’s way can clash hard with that of another group. 

We see this all over in the U.S. lately. Bitterness divides races, ethnicities, sexes, genders, religions. Peace eludes us as we all seek a piece of the pie. Here in Milpitas, our Mayor and Vice Mayor tangle. The Mayor, who’s the first Vietnamese-American in our city’s history to hold that position, has in recent days proposed voting to rotate out the Vice Mayor from her post. The Vice Mayor, a woman, and a woman of color, feels affronted by what she sees as a clear masculine power play. Two leaders, two histories, two backgrounds, two traditions. Each vying for leverage, so as to preserve power. This goes on everywhere.

It’s America. And THE IRISHMAN.

Power never comes cheaply, the movie tells us. It piles tax upon tax. It thus must be guarded and nurtured. For it gets threatened for reasons from the petty to the profound. And even when it’s taken, by one from the other, there’s not necessarily a gain. 

For the game itself is depleting, and nobody wins. 

One day, long ago, The Irishman won The White House. Like all people of power, he got hit with a tax. 

It got paid in the form of his life.

Watch the movie. With your family (minus the kids). Talk about it when it’s over. 

Then think about it going forward, for the rest of your life.

 

 

 

Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He is the author of six critically acclaimed fiction books, among them the novella "It's Only Temporary" (2005), which appeared on Nightmare Magazine's list of the Top 100 Horror Books, and numerous short stories published in anthologies alongside work by H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and many others. His nonfiction articles have been published on The Daily Dot, Ravishly, and The Good Men Project. His first feature film, "Rule of 3" (2010), won awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival and Shriekfest, and had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest. His second feature film, "Living Things" (2014), was endorsed by PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) and distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. In 2015, he won the 19th Annual Fade In Award for Thriller Screenplays. He was a founding partner of Ghostwriters Central, a writing and editing firm which received positive notices from The Wall Street Journal, Consumers Digest, and the TV program "Intelligence For Your Life." Eric has edited works published on The Huffington Post and Forbes, as well as two Bram Stoker Award-nominated novels.

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