Review: Why 'The Irishman' Is A Slap In The Face To Detroit

"Hoffa may as well have lived in Honolulu ... Detroit has no role in the film."

WWJ News
November 25, 2019 - 12:44 pm
Robert DeNiro, left, Martin Scorsese and Al Pacino

Photo taken by WWJ's Terri Lee during the LA premiere of The Irishman


(WWJ) Author and local mob historian Scott Burnstein weighed in on his Original Gangster podcast on the much-hyped Martin Scorsese movie "The Irishman" centered on the murder of Jimmy Hoffa.

And he damned it with faint praise.

"I didn't dislike it," he said, adding he was underwhelmed after seeing reviews that compared it to "The Godfather."

Overall, it's too long and convoluted, with strange trips into side storylines that should have been edited out.

And it has a few huge, glaring problems: Overall, the film is "a giant slap in the face to the city of Detroit in so many ways," Burnstein added. The film is only in Detroit for less than three minutes, there's absolutely no sense of place or history or Detroit's role in Hoffa's life -- and death.

"Hoffa may as well have lived in Honolulu ... Detroit has no role in the film," Burnstein said.  It's New York-centric, with an East Coast bias that left a bad taste in the mouth of the local mob experts on the Original Gangsters podcast. Burnstein hosts the podcast with professor, mob expert and local author James Dr. James Buccellato and executive producer Roberto Boschian of Detroit's 97.1 The Ticket.  

Tony Giacalone, the Detroit mob captain who most experts believe spearheaded Hoffa's death, is marginalized in the movie. He looks like some low-level water boy. You can't even say Detroit is marginalized --  because it doesn't exist in the movie, Burnstein said.

"The order came from Detroit," Burnstein said about Hoffa's death. And instead of focusing on Hoffa's problems in Detroit that led to his murder, the movie makes it appear like it was somehow tied to a beef in New York. 

That's one problem for metro Detroiters or people who actually like real history, but beyond that Burnstein said the validity of the claims in the story are questionable -- because most mob experts agree there's no way Chuckie O'Brien drove while Frank Sheeran killed Hoffa.

Focusing away from the validity of the story and on the performances and entertainment value, Burnstein ranked it as 8th on his list of great Scorsese movies.

It's a three-hour, 45 minute long movie, and outside of the holy trinity of Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro there's not much time devoted to other characters, he said. But there are numerous rabbit holes where side stories start with bit players, disappear for hours, come back peripherally, and never properly finish, Burnstein said. There's a confusing storyline about Sheeran's daughter that goes nowhere, Hoffa's surrogate son O'Brien pops in and out without context.

The movie makes it appear that O'Brien and Hoffa are on great terms when the infamous last ride begins, though historians know they had a falling out and weren't on speaking terms at the time. The Red Fox Tavern is shown in what looks like the New England countryside, instead of metro Detroit.

The whole thing seems like a self-indulgent creation by the Babe Ruth of cinema, Burnstein added. "Who am I to tell him not to go and do it ... But I will say I don't think this movie needed to be 3 hours 40 minutes long."

Spoiler alert: Hoffa dies, and there's still another hour left to go.

When he's killed, Burnstein says the movie gets it right about Hoffa's final resting place. He's put in the trunk of a car, delivered to an incinerator, and burned to ashes. 

Except in the movie, the incinerator is in the "rolling hills of Vermont" instead of a mob-owned incinerator inside Detroit, Burnstein said.