While director Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is enjoying a pretty exciting ride as a 10 time Academy Award nominee, there’s still a fair amount of controversy as to how this film has depicted the death of former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa. The questionable reality of the story presented in the film has now been even more scrutinized, as Frank Sheeran’s lawyer, Glenn Zeitz, says that the film, and the book it was based on, got the story absolutely wrong.
Hired as Frank Sheeran’s lawyer 40 years ago, Zeitz has recently come out and stated that the story woven by both Sheeran himself, as well as by author Charles Brandt in his now landmark best-seller “I Heard You Paint Houses,” is a fabrication at best, and part of a chain of unreliability at worst.
With a lot of Netflix viewers having already watched The Irishman, and the film’s Oscar campaign beginning to heat up, it’s a good time to review how the film depicted its version of Jimmy Hoffa’s death, and just why Glenn Zeitz thinks that scenario isn’t right.
How The Irishman Depicts Jimmy Hoffa’s Death
In the events depicted in The Irishman, we see Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran being tasked with assassinating Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa. The hit is ordered by Sheeran’s friend, mob boss Russell Buffalino, played by Joe Pesci.
While on their way to a wedding in the midwest, Buffalino informs Sheeran that he’s to fly out to Detroit, and aid in the pickup and elimination of Jimmy Hoffa. Thanks to his former friends in organized crime disapproving of his warpath to reclaim his presidency of the Teamsters union, the once powerful man was now a target to be dealt with.
As seen in The Irishman, Hoffa was taken to a house by Frank Sheeran and some friends, shot twice at close range, and eventually cremated to seal the deal. His disappearance is reported the day after the crime is supposedly committed.
What Frank Sheeran’s Lawyer Said About Jimmy Hoffa’s Death
In his recent interview with The Washington Post, Glenn Zeitz was revealed to have consulted the FBI investigation into Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, and has even used his own files from years of serving as Frank Sheeran’s lawyer, to build a case that Sheeran wasn’t the person behind the supposed assassination of Hoffa.
All of that effort and research has led to the following assertion made by this recent story:
Zeitz, now 72, says he is of the 'belief and opinion' that Sheeran was 'in the vicinity' of Hoffa's disappearance. Zeitz added, based on his access to FBI records and other research, that 'I'm clearly stating he did not shoot Jimmy Hoffa.'
While Frank Sheeran and Russell Buffalino may have been headed out to the wedding of Bill Buffalino’s daughter roughly a half hour away from Detroit, Zeitz has no confidence that Sheeran’s execution of the Hoffa hit could have taken place. Strangely enough, depending on when you spoke with Mr. Sheeran himself, he would have agreed with his lawyer.
Frank Sheeran’s Interesting History Pertaining To The Hoffa Hit
That chain of events, which comes from narrative “I Heard You Paint Houses” claims to be the truth, has been disputed by many a source ever since its release. However, in an added twist to this story by The Washington Post, the greatest contradictions to that story have come from Sheeran himself.
Further along in the story debunking Frank Sheeran’s involvement with the death of Jimmy Hoffa, this particularly interesting piece of information was provided:
Indeed, as the years went along, and he lost touch with Zeitz, Sheeran spun many a yarn about Hoffa. He said two Sicilian war orphans killed Hoffa. He said Vietnamese mercenaries killed him. He said a hit on Hoffa was ordered by high-ranking officials in the Republican Party or the Nixon White House, or Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell.
This is on top of the times where Frank Sheeran allegedly distanced himself from the Jimmy Hoffa hit, as the man who was really known by the alias “Big Irish” has also threatened to sue people who have connected him to the infamous potential murder.
All of this adds up to the fact that if we’re going by the public record, as well as those maintained by the FBI and Glenn Zeitz, there’s no definitive “confession” by Frank Sheeran that he did kill Jimmy Hoffa. And that, ultimately, causes us to question just how this effected director Martin Scorsese’s prolonged quest to make this film, as this controversy is so baked into the story at this point that it’s hard to avoid.
Martin Scorsese’s Reaction To The Irishman Controversy
As the subject of how accurate Frank Sheeran’s various stories surrounding Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance has been an evergreen discussion surrounding The Irishman’s source material, there’s obviously the question of how Martin Scorsese feels about the subject.
Naturally, the director was asked about how important he felt the truth to Sheeran’s claims were, and in an interview with EW, Scorsese made his opinion of “the truth” bluntly clear:
I don’t really care about that. What would happen if we knew exactly how the JFK assassination was worked out? What does it do? It gives us a couple of good articles, a couple of movies and people talking about at dinner parties. The point is, it’s not about the facts. It’s the world [the characters are] in, the way they behave. It’s about [a character] stuck in a certain situation. You’re obligated to behave a certain way and you realize you may have made a mistake. But you’ve got to go on, right? It’s more about the feelings and feelings of being a human over 50, 60, 70, 80 years. What you may have done 40 years ago could have been done by another person, but it’s still you. What part of you did that, you know? Is it still there?
Rather than focus on whether or not Frank Sheeran committed the murder The Irishman makes its pivotal event, Martin Scorsese and writer Steven Zaillian were concerned with showing the personal evolution of Sheeran. While his actions and his attitudes inform where he is at any given point in time, that’s not where the film puts its main focus.
In the end, The Irishman is still a compelling narrative that provides a possible solution to one of the greatest mysteries in American crime. But that’s all the film gives to its audience, as the source material’s accuracy will always be under suspicion until the cold hard truth is provided. Judging by how Glenn Zeitz’s files, and even those of the FBI, are protected to a certain degree, we may never see that day come. So for now, if you’re interested in knowing the definitive truth behind Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, the answer is that for now, we simply don’t know what that is.