‘Irishman’ Film Boasts Deep Jersey Roots

The Garden State plays a major role in Martin Scorsese’s latest underworld epic, hitting theaters and Netflix this November.

Photo: Niko Tavernise/Netflix

It’s easy to miss the old Teamsters building at the busy intersection of 7th Street and Summit Avenue in Union City. Traffic is always heavy, and the beige-brick building is not much to look at.

In his much-anticipated new movie, The Irishman, director Martin Scorsese resurrects the ghost of an old mobster who used to train racing pigeons on the roof of the Teamsters building. Scorsese’s latest underworld epic stars Hollywood legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel. It hits select theaters Nov. 1, before streaming on Netflix Nov. 27.

The Irishman has deep New Jersey roots. At its center is a battle between two mob heavyweights with ties to the Garden State. The first is Russell Bufalino, played by Newark-born Pesci. Bufalino was boss of a small but influential organized-crime family based in northeast Pennsylvania, with tentacles reaching from Jersey to Florida.

In the other corner is Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, the Jersey mobster who maintained his beloved pigeon coops on the roof of the Teamsters building. British actor Stephen Graham, who played Al Capone in HBO’s Atlantic City crime saga Boardwalk Empire, balances humor and menace in his Tony Pro portrayal. (The Irishman also features Boardwalk Empire alums Aleksa Palladino and Bobby Cannavale, a Union City native.)

Provenzano was a high-profile mob figure in the 1960s and 1970s. Working from his Union City base of operations as vice president of Teamsters Local 560, he built a fruitful alliance with legendary International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa.

In The Irishman, Bufalino and Tony Pro engage in a high-stakes battle over Hoffa (Pacino), who initially counts labor leaders and mobsters as his allies. But after serving prison time—alongside Provenzano, as The Irishman tells it—Hoffa’s allies become his enemies.

Photo: Niko Tavernise/Netflix

That’s where Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran comes in. The real-life hitman—a Camden native—loves and admires Hoffa. But he’s also a loyal soldier for the crime bosses who pay him. They’ve grown tired of Hoffa’s reckless ways and manic temper.

Thus were born a thousand grim jokes about bodies buried underneath the end zone at Giants Stadium. (For the record, no human remains were found when the old stadium was torn down to make way for MetLife Stadium.)

The Irishman is rightly being hailed as a capstone to Scorsese’s career. It’s also a brilliant reunion for De Niro and Pesci, who collaborated with Scorsese on previous classics Raging BullGoodfellas and Casino.

The film employs what has been called “de-aging” technology so that De Niro and Pesci can appear as themselves in flashbacks, without the use of younger actors or prosthetics. The results, overall, are stunning.

True, the movie clocks in at an excessive three hours and 30 minutes. And now and then, de-aging technology or not, the stars look a bit old to be doing what they’re doing. Still, The Irishman is a powerful addition to Scorsese’s underworld oeuvre.

In an additional Jersey connection, several key scenes of the movie were shot in Paterson, lately a hotspot for filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg (for his upcoming West Side Story) and Jersey-reared David Chase (for the Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark).

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