Is The Irishman Based On A True Story? The Answer Is More Complicated Than You’d Think
Published on December 5, 2019
Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Irishman, hit theaters and Netflix recently. The movie has racked up over four million dollars at the box office so far. And that’s not even an accurate gauge of how well the movie is being received because Netflix hasn’t released information for their platform views.
With an Oscar-winning director as well as an Oscar-winning cast, The Irishman is set to be an Oscar favorite this year. The movie tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, played by Robert DeNiro. The story follows Sheeran as he becomes a smalltime player in the Philadelphia mob scene. He eventually rises in the ranks and starts working for Jimmy Hoffa, yes the Jimmy Hoffa.
According to the movie, and Sheeran himself (yes, he is a real person), Sheeran is the one who eventually kills Hoffa and gets rid of his body. Not under Giants stadium in case you’re wondering. So, is the movie really based on a true story? Do we finally have the answer to the question “who killed Jimmy Hoffa”?
The answer is more complicated than yes or no.
Sheeran’s Version Of The Truth
The Irishman is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, which is a tell-all style memoir of Frank Sheeran’s time in the mob. It’s the same kind of tell-all mob tale that inspired Scorsese’s classic mob film, Goodfellas. Since the movie is based on a memoir and a memoir is a true story, then the movie is based on a true story, right?
Again, the answer isn’t quite that simple. Why? Because Sheeran has a history of bending and stretching the truth. So, the most accurate answer to whether or not the movie is based on a true story is to say that the movie is based on one person’s story that they claim is true. It’s based on Sheeran’s version of the truth.
What’s True And What’s Not?
Since Sheeran isn’t a very reliable storyteller, it’s worth digging a little deeper to figure out what about his story might be true and what’s definitely lies. The entertainment website Grunge put together an in-depth breakdown of what’s true about Sheeran’s story, what’s outright false, and what’s questionable.
Starting at the most basic level of the story, it is true that Sheeran was in the mob in the Philadelphia area in the 1950s. But a Slate investigation found that Sheeran was likely a pretty small-time player in the mob scene. He did work for famous mobster Russell Bufalino at one time. But it’s unclear if he ever rose any higher in the ranks.
In fact, other mobsters described him as a low-life wino who had never killed anyone. Of course, it’s possible that these former wise guys are downplaying Sheeran’s importance within the mafia because they know when to keep their mouths shut. But the more likely scenario is that Sheeran wasn’t nearly as big-time as he claimed.
The only criminal activity that Sheeran has been tied to is the beating of a union boss and the murder of a rival union leader. But he didn’t do the killing himself. He hired hitmen to take care of it.
The movie makes Sheeran out to be an insider, doing the mob’s dirty work. In the movie, he kills both Crazy Joe Gallo and Jimmy Hoffa, but there’s no hard evidence that he was in any way involved in either murder.
In fact, Sheeran had previously claimed he had nothing to do with either murder. When he eventually claimed credit for both in his memoir, he said he was clearing his conscience because he knew he was dying. This could be true, but also might not be.
As for other claims made in the movie – like that the mob got JFK elected through election fraud, that the mob was responsible for JFK’s assassination, and that the Teamsters built Las Vegas – there are varying levels to each.
So, True Story?
So, the bottom line is that it’s hard to disprove most of Sheeran’s version of the truth because there’s not a lot of information about the events, to begin with. But there is a fair amount of evidence that suggests his story is less than truthful.
Either way, The Irishman tells an incredible and entertaining story about the inner workings of the mob. Check it out on Netflix, or check your local theater’s showtimes for the big screen experience.