Anytime you make a movie (or any piece of art), you open yourself up to criticisms of said art. That’s especially true of historical dramas and films based on actual events. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman opens itself up to additional criticisms, as the filmmaker’s long-developing drama is told from the perspective of one person in particular: former union official and mob hitman Frank Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro. Scorsese’s film is based on I Heard You Paint Houses, Charles Brandt’s non-fiction book in which Sheeran—on his death bed—recounted his life to the author, including details of the hits he allegedly carried out for the Bufalino crime family. Sheeran also claims to know exactly what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, the notorious Teamster leader who disappeared in 1975. As Sheeran tells it, he killed his longtime friend and associate in a house in Detroit.
Sheeran’s claims have often been disputed, most recently by noted Hoffa investigator Dan Moldea, who told The Daily Beast that he confronted Robert De Niro at an event in Washington, D.C. Moldea says he told the actor he shouldn’t star in The Irishman because it wasn’t factually accurate. Speaking with IndieWire, De Niro responded to Moldea’s criticisms of the film and shared Scorsese’s perspective on the historical accuracies (or inaccuracies) of Sheeran’s story:
Dan is a well-respected writer. I met him in D.C. for a writers thing where they get together every year. He said that we were getting conned. I wasn’t getting conned. I have no problem with people disagreeing. He of course is an authority on Hoffa and everything else. As Marty says, ‘We’re not saying we’re telling the actual story. We’re telling our story. I believed it.’
To this day, Hoffa’s body has never been found. Forensic tests conducted in the Detroit home where Sheeran says he assassinated Hoffa revealed two sets of blood stains. The first was not a match with Hoffa’s DNA; the second stain pattern, which corroborated Sheeran’s story, tested positive for blood and DNA but had been so degraded over time that it was impossible to match to any person.
Despite the lack of resolution, De Niro went on to say that Sheeran’s story “made a lot of sense” to him:
I know one thing — I know all the stuff that Frank said, the descriptions of the places he was at, the way he talked, that’s all real. The way he describes what happened to Hoffa is a very plausible thing to me.
Whether or not Sheeran’s story is entirely true is not the point of The Irishman, which is essentially a three-hour meditation on how life is pointless and it fucks us all over in the end.