Scorsese: Opening NYFF and Preparing Killers of the Flower Moon

On Film / The Daily — Jul 30, 2019
Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019)

Official confirmation that Martin Scorsese would be directing The Irishman, based on the true story of alleged mafia hit man Frank Sheeran, dates back nearly five years, to September 2014. Yesterday, Film at Lincoln Center announced that the film with a killer cast—Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, and Ray Romano—will see its world premiere as the opening night film of this year’s New York Festival. Scorsese, in the meantime, has spent the past few days posting photos on Instagram from Osage County in Oklahoma, where he’s been scouting locations for his next project, Killers of the Flower Moon.

Steven Zaillian, who won an armful of awards for his screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and who worked with Scorsese on Gangs of New York (2002), has based the screenplay for The Irishman on Charles Brandt’s 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses. The title echoes the first words that the notorious labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa ever spoke to Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran, and the “paint” refers to the blood splattered on the walls after a hit. Brandt’s big scoop was Sheeran’s confession that he’d murdered his old friend, Hoffa.

In the film, Sheeran (De Niro) looks back on his days working for crime boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci), who ordered the hit on Hoffa (Pacino). And therein lies the challenge. The lead actors are all in their mid-to-late seventies, and Scorsese has spent well over a year working with Industrial Light & Magic and VFX supervisor Rob Legato on “de-aging” them for the flashback scenes. According to Variety’s Brent Lang, the process has cranked the budget up to “roughly $160 million.” Cinephiles may find a few other numbers more interesting, though. Shot over 108 days, The Irishman will be Scorsese’s ninth collaboration with De Niro (and the first since 1995’s Casino) and his first with Pacino. The pairing of these two actors is especially tantalizing given the recently revived interest in their work together on Michael Mann’s Heat (1995).

Landing The Irishman is quite a coup for the NYFF, and it can’t have hurt that festival director Kent Jones and Scorsese have been friends and collaborators for years. They’ve codirected documentaries on the Statue of Liberty and Elia Kazan and Scorsese has helped produce Jones’s Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) and his award-winning fictional debut, Diane (2018). Jones calls The Irishman a “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.” This year’s NYFF will open on September 27 and run through October 13.

Scorsese, who’s already released a film earlier this year, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, will reunite with Leonardo DiCaprio for their sixth collaboration, Killers of the Flower Moon. Screenwriter Eric Roth (Ali, Munich) is basing the script on journalist David Grann’s 2017 book about the murders in the 1920s of wealthy members of the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe whose land was found to be rich with oil deposits. According to Grann, the murders were instigated by cattleman William Hale, and IndieWire’s Zack Sharf reports that rumors are flying around in Oklahoma that Hale will be played by Robert De Niro.

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