By Nick Maylor
The best film of the year (perhaps the decade), Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019) was adapted from Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa. The book has been analyzed and criticized for those who claim that Frank Sheeran’s first-hand accounts are lies, exaggerations, or both. I will not be addressing the veracity of the book’s claims here. I will, however, highlight ten things that were notable differences between the film and its source material. Some of them may seem inconsequential, others are not. Dramatic license is to be expected. You can be the judge if these things should have been addressed in the film. There are no less than ten ways the film struck me as being different from the book.
The Apalachin Meeting
In the book, Frank details Russell’s involvement in the famous Apalachin meeting which took place on November 14, 1957. Not only was Bufalino said to be a key figure in arranging the event, but Sheeran also claims to have personally chauffered Bufalino to Apalachin, New York the day before the notorious meeting of several high-ranking organized crime figures. The arrests that were made the day of the meeting confirmed the existence of “La Cosa Nostra”. This important historical event and the film’s main characters’ involvement is not portrayed in the film.
The Drive to Detroit
The drive up to Detroit (during which, a house is to be painted) is portrayed as taking three days in the film. The book describes how the events took place over the course of one day. The extended drive time in the film is used to frame the movie and allows for the comedic cigarette breaks to serve more humour. Using the extended drive allows for several scenes to be written into the trip that were composites of several conversations described in the book.
Scorsese chose to avoid this story element as his already very long film was covering enough material, and he didn’t want to get into the realm of conspiracy. Long story short: the book describes a time when Frank Sheeran acted as a courier for a package that is heavily suggested to include the rifle used in the JFK assassination.
Frank the Soldier
Frank’s time in the war is relegated to one (very powerful) scene in the film where he makes two soldiers dig their own graves before shooting them dead. In the book, Frank’s time during the war is covered over several chapters and the various events described that act as a window into his psychological state thereafter.
Frank the Drinker
While Frank is seen drinking socially in the film, the book discusses Frank’s alcoholism in detail. Having gained a taste for red wine during his time in Italy during WWII, Frank’s affinity for the drink played a huge part in his life and is even mentioned by those who criticize the validity of his claims.
Frank the Dancer
The book talks about how the towering 6’4 Irishman Sheeran was not only an accomplished ballroom dancer but that for a time he made money as a ballroom dance instructor. This detail could have been omitted for several reasons but one cannot help but imagine De Niro busting a move to some up-tempo swing music. Al Pacino is however seen cutting a rug with Anna Paquin who plays Sheeran’s daughter.
Jimmy’s First Words
While the first phone call between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is faithfully adapted in the film, by and large, there is one striking difference. In the film, Hoffa introduces himself and exchanges briefly with Sheeran before using the book’s titular metaphor as a query. In the book, Sheeran describes the conversation as him picking up the phone, saying “hello” to hear Hoffa immediately respond: “I heard you paint houses.”
Peggy’s Last Words
Anna Paquin’s mostly silent role as Frank’s daughter Peggy has received criticism from some. I personally think that she did a wonderful job considering she is only given a few words to say the entire film. The scene after Hoffa’s disappearance when everyone is watching television shows Peggy question her father as to why he has not called Jimmy’s wife, Jo. Frank proceeds to make the tragic phone call while (via narration) he confirms that Peggy stopped talking to him and “disappeared” from his life that day. The book explains the scene differently. After reading something on her father’s face that she does not like, Peggy asks him to leave the house, remarking “I don’t even want to know a person like you”
Frank and Jimmy’s Last Ride
In the film, after Jimmy is picked up from the Machus Red Fox restaurant, Frank insists on sitting in the back despite the seat being wet. The book details the ride as having Frank riding shotgun while Jimmy sits in the back. This change was obviously made to facilitate the final conversation that the two would have before entering the house. The scene is much more meaningful as Jimmy rides in the back with his most trusted friend, oblivious to what is about to happen.
The film’s somber ending is masterfully shot by Scorsese and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It does, however, ignore the element of Sheeran’s later years that made the film possible in the first place. Extensive interviews with author and investigator Charles Brandt are detailed in I Heard You Paint Houses, the resulting book that came from his time with Sheeran and his work on the Hoffa case. In the film, Sheeran is seen (somewhat) seeking absolution from a priest, but there is no indication of how he attempted to set the record straight on paper. Brandt does not appear as a character in the film
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor