Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Irishman and Goodfellas
Despite the fact that there are 29 years and 12 feature films separating them, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman has an awful lot in common with and references to 1990's Goodfellas. His latest, a nearly-4-hour-long Netflix production, reunites the director with two of his longest-serving collaborators, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, in addition to finally bringing Al Pacino into his onscreen troupe.
Both films, in one way or another, depict the aftermath of being a gangster. Goodfellas is scoped through the eyes of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), a young Irish-American who was taken in, raised, and morphed by his neighborhood mob. Therefore, Henry's pedestrian life, catapulted by his admission into the FBI's Witness Protection Program, is tainted by the regret-less hangover of his mobster life. The Irishman, on the other hand, is told through the reminisces of a de-aged Frank Sheeran (De Niro). While both films are told through flashback, Frank's lasting impression of "the life" is far less romantic, drenched in tragedy, grief, and perhaps even a smidgen of guilt.
Though these two productions take nearly conversing positions, as leading examples of the genre, they share a lot of on-the-surface elements: car bombs, spoken nothings, clean suits, hits, jobs, double taps, etc. But with The Irishman, Scorsese managed to throw together a few tie-ins to his almost 30-year-old classic, and here they are:
Inverse Copa Shot
Perhaps the most widely celebrated shot in film history takes place in Goodfellas. Henry Hill, upon meeting and courting his then-girlfriend Karen (Lorraine Bracco), decides to take her to the Copacabana restaurant, where she is introduced to the majesty and power of his mysterious lifestyle. In a 3-minute long shot, which is still considered to be a masterwork in both cinematography and storytelling, Henry escorts his date through the back door, past the lines, and across the establishment, walking confidently through its operation – an experience enhanced by Scorsese's steadicam – until they finally sit down at a table dragged out especially for them. The shot is used to establish the whimsy of Henry's power, or rather the power of his associates. It is perhaps the happiest the two will ever be together, and it is that pinnacle which The Irishman takes down in its own long opening shot.
In the 2019 film, Scorsese similarly glides through the operations of a nursing home – doctors fluttering around, patients playing checkers and taking pills – before finally resting on Frank. Bounded to a wheelchair, tired and alone, his life is the opposite of glamour. While The Irishman will lend Frank a few Copacabana-like moments, it will constantly remind him that the cons of being a convict will always outweigh the pros.
No, this is not referring to Joe Pesci. "Crazy" Joe Gallo was a real life gangster, a muscle and a member for the Colombo crime family. Infamously the initiator of a New York City gang war and killed in 1972 the only real way mobsters seem to know how, Gallo actually finds a place in both The Irishman and Goodfellas. Recollecting on the early years of his involvement with the local criminals, Henry remembers how exciting it was to be a part of "the life." And boy, he chose a pretty excellent time to be a part of it, too. "It was before Appalachian," Henry recalls, "and before Crazy Joe decided to take on a boss and start a war."
This quick note – referencing the time Gallo and his crew kidnapped the majority of the Profaci Family leadership and held them at ransom – may be the only reference Crazy Joe gets in Goodfellas, but the famous gangster is fully fleshed out in The Irishman. Played by Sebastian Maniscalco, Gallo is seen in a couple of scenes (including a touching tribute to late comedian and friend of Scorsese's, Don Rickles). The mobster is on the top of his world, heralded as a hero on his streets, he prances around without a worry in the world, a mentality he keeps even after insulting boss Russell Buffalino (Pesci). That night, the night of Gallo's birthday, Frank is sent to kill . The action itself is quick and bloody, with Gallo laid out on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant he and his family were celebrating in. While historians have challenged Sheeran's involvement in the still-unsolved crime, The Irishman plants Gallo's butchering into its 210-minute runtime.
Always Keep Your Mouth Shut
It's a rule. It's just how it is: mobsters must always keep their mouths shut. This mafia mantra is one that courses through the veins of all gangster movies, but it also one that is so famously pronounced by Jimmy Conway, De Niro's character in Goodfellas. After a young Henry is brought in front of a judge – or "pinched" as he puts it – on his first charge, Jimmy takes the strange opportunity to congratulate him. "You learned the two greatest things in life," Jimmy declares, "never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut." The great irony is, of course, that by the end of Goodfellas, Henry will have broken both of those rules, very badly.
The mobsters at the forefront of The Irishman follow a similar rule, one which Frank follows until the bitter end. But the mere silence of these characters is not what binds the film to Goodfellas. First asked by lawyer Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano) and then again later by Frank himself during his time as a local Teamsters President, the phrase "would you give [up] names?" rings quite a bell, especially when the followup is, "you got nothing to worry about." Written by Schindler's List's Steven Zaillian, this subtle test of loyalty feels like it belongs right alongside the iconic Goodfellas quote.
The Irishman hits its climax as Frank recalls his involvement in the disappearance and death of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). The fate of the loudmouth Teamsters President is still technically unknown – Hoffa was officially declared dead in 1982, exactly 7 years after he was last seen – but according to The Irishman, Hoffa was whacked by Frank, an ordered execution after the labor union leader crossed one too many lines.
The buildup to Hoffa's death is grueling, as Frank, one of Jimmy's greatest friends, dreads what he is about to do. Together with Hoffa's son Chuckie (Jesse Plemmons) and a weaselly gangster, Jimmy and Frank are driven to a small suburban home, where Jimmy thinks his grievances with the mob will finally be settled. Walking inside, Jimmy takes one look in the empty corridor – as does the camera – before declaring that his patience has been spent. It's at that moment that Jimmy fires two rounds into the back of Hoffa's head.
While Hoffa was completely off guard by the assassination, especially since it was at the hands of his longtime friend, this sequence bears a striking resemblance to the death of Tommy DeVito (Pesci) in Goodfellas. DeVito, a hothead himself, is similarly brought to a suburban home under false pretenses. He thinks that he's finally getting "made," a huge honor in the mafia business. But when he arrives, dressed in his best suit and with a pep in his step, he walks into an empty room. He barely has the chance to yelp, "oh no" before another mobster shoots him in the back of the head. As it turns out, the promotion was a hoax, an act of punishment for one of Tommy's ill-conceived and impermissible acts. Though the circumstances aren't exactly the same, the executions are shot in a similar manner, with an ominous and empty room solidifying the characters' fates and further linking Goodfellas and The Irishman.
- The Irishman (2019) release date: Nov 27, 2019