Robert De Niro while a night scene for ‘The Irishman’ is being filmed in New York. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Robert De Niro while a night scene for ‘The Irishman’ is being filmed in New York. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

After years of whispers and rumours and a decade-long attempt to bring it to screen, Martin Scorsese’s long awaited Netflix feature debut, The Irishman, will have its premier at the New York Film Festival on September 27. Starring Robert De Niro (in his ninth Scorsese film), Al Pacino (in his first) and Joe Pesci (who was coaxed out of retirement to reunite with Scorsese and De Niro after turning down the part a reported 50 times), it’s a project that represents Netflix’s biggest feature-film gamble and a risky project for its 76-year-old director.

Scorsese returns to his native New York with the story of the assassination of legendary union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) who disappeared in 1975 and was declared dead in 1982. The expectations for the film have been high since the release of on-set footage, a teaser trailer and now an extended trailer earlier in 2019, which gives some indication of the look and feel of the film and the use of expensive and nervously awaited ageing technology that will reimagine its actors as their younger selves.

Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt and adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian, the project was first mooted in 2008. The film eventually landed at Paramount where it was given the green light in 2016, only to have its funding withdrawn the following year after the initial budget of $100m ballooned to $125m. The budget is now rumoured to be $175m, making it the most expensive film of Scorsese’s career and the most expensive film that Netflix has yet commissioned.

It’s the story of Irish mob hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) who claimed to have killed 25 people for the mafia, including Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran narrates the film and the story calls for De Niro, who is in his seventies, to be de-aged back to his 30s, as well as for the same technology to be used on Pacino and Pesci’s characters. The technology is provided by Scorsese’s fellow American New Wave pioneer George Lucas’ company Industrial Light and Magic and it doesn’t come cheap — significantly contributing to the spiralling budget.

While Scorsese, a renowned cinephile and fighter for the preservation of the medium, has been less than complimentary in the past about streaming services and their role in the shaping of modern movies, he accepted Netflix’s offer on the understanding that it would ensure that the film enjoys a wide theatrical release of at least two weeks — which would make it eligible for next year’s Oscar race.

Unfortunately for Scorsese, this means that the film will not be eligible for the Cannes Film Festival where he has previously won the Palme d’Or for Taxi Driver. Europe’s most prestigious festival has effectively banned Netflix films because of the streaming service’s policy of releasing films online on the same day that they hit cinemas.

However, excitement is still high for the project in New York, Scorsese’s hometown, which has been the source for his most celebrated and successful projects over his four-decade career. There’s no word yet on when exactly The Irishman will open but it’s expected that it will be sometime in November during the US fall of 2019.