Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating crime drama, which relies on special effects to “de-age” stars Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, has long eyed the coveted slot. After all, Scorsese is perhaps the most quintessentially New York of filmmakers and he’s also personally close to the festival’s director Kent Jones. But given the complexity of the effects work, as well as Scorsese’s perfectionism in the editing room, there was chatter that “The Irishman” might not be finished in time for a glitzy world premiere at Alice Tully Hall. Well, put those fears to rest.
“The Irishman,” the roughly $160 million crime drama, is one of Netflix’s major Oscar season hopefuls. It’s the ninth time that De Niro has worked with Scorsese and the first time that Pacino has been directed by the filmmaker. The cast also includes Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, two longtime Scorsese collaborators. The ensemble also boasts Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, and Ray Romano.
Based on Charles Brandt’s nonfiction book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” “The Irishman” focuses on the relationship between labor union leader and hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) and Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the Teamsters’ honcho who disappeared in 1975 in mysterious circumstance. He was declared dead in absentia in 1982. Pesci will play Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino while Keitel will co-star as mobster Angelo Bruno. “The Irishman” will be released in select theaters and on Netflix later this year. There’s been a lot of debate about how wide a release the film will receive. Scorsese reportedly wants it to be seen on as many screens as possible, but Netflix doesn’t adhere to traditional theatrical windows. It likes its movies to play on its streaming service within weeks of their cinema debuts, something that infuriates major theater chains such as AMC and Regal, which refuse to screen them.
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“‘The Irishman ‘is so many things: rich, funny, troubling, entertaining and, like all great movies, absolutely singular,” Jones said in a statement. “It’s the work of masters, made with a command of the art of cinema that I’ve seen very rarely in my lifetime, and it plays out at a level of subtlety and human intimacy that truly stunned me. All I can say is that the minute it was over my immediate reaction was that I wanted to watch it all over again.”
Many festivals, such as Toronto and Sundance, have a spotty track record when it comes to picking opening night films. It’s a fate that the New York Film Festival has largely avoided. There have been a few duds, such as “Last Flag Flying” and “The Walk,” but most of the kick-off movies have emerged to become major Oscar contenders or commercial successes. Recent festival openers include “Gone Girl,” “Life of Pi,” “The Social Network,” and “The Favourite.”
“I greatly admire the bold and visionary selections that the festival presents to audiences year after year,” said Scorsese. “The festival is critical to bringing awareness to cinema from around the world. I am grateful to have the opportunity to premiere my new picture in New York alongside my wonderful cast and crew.”
Although many members of the cast have appeared in seminal Scorsese films such as “Mean Streets” and “Raging Bull,” they’ve haven’t been in one of his pictures in decades. De Niro and Pesci last worked with Scorsese in 1995’s “Casino” and Keitel’s last collaboration with the director was 1987’s “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
The 17-day New York Film Festival is presented by Film at Lincoln Center. It runs from Sept. 27 through Oct. 13.