Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman could change Netflix and the film industry

Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is slated for release in September at the New York Film Festival; photo: courtesy of Netflix

This week, Netflix released the first teaser trailer for director Martin Scorsese’s newest film, The IrishmanWhile officially announced back in February of this year, the project has been more than a decade in the makingThe film is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, a biography of mob hitman Frank Sheeran, and its story spans a good portion of the 20th century as it follows Sheeran’s relationship with organised crime and the disappearance of Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Equipped with a legendary cast headed up by monumental Hollywood veterans Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, The Irishman is shaping up to be a historic release – not only for Scorsese, but for Netflix as well. 

For Scorsese, the movie should prove to be one of the director’s biggest films to date. The movie was first mentioned back in 2008 and talk stirred up again in 2014 when Pacino announced that it would follow Silence as Scorsese’s next venture. The Irishman is also Scorsese’s most expensive project to date, approaching a budget of almost US$200 million (surpassing the price tag for Scorsese’s famously extravagant Hugo), thanks in part to the extensive use of de-aging CGI technology on the senior actors involved. Given the combination of budget and time, the film is undoubtedly a risky choice for funding, which is why the traditional studios were wary to back the project. Netflix, however, decided to take that risk. 

For Netflix, the film means a breakthrough into a new calibre and tier of content. Long regarded as a glut of rom-coms, bingeable TV, indie flicks and B-list movies, Netflix will now be the home of a prestigious production by one of the world’s most respected and venerated directors. Not only that, the collaboration and scale automatically draws attention to the film as a dominant contender for this year’s awards shows – that is, if Netflix can successfully break the industry-wide stigma against streaming platforms.

The Irishman could signal Netflix’s first foray into the awards show race – an entrance that has been long opposed by most of the film industry, with festivals like Cannes manipulating rules to exclude the possibility of Netflix entries. Netflix has taken measures to sidestep established preventive barriers – including the Directors Guild of America’s eligibility rule change that movies must have a theatrical release that precedes streaming availability for a given timeframe – by announcing the theatrical release of the movie to a very limited group of “select theatres” in the US. And, with an original film attached to the revered names of Scorsese, De Niro and Pacino, it’ll be a hard sell for the industry to restrict its candidacy for nominations. 

The film’s first screening will be at the New York Film Festival this September and it’s set to close the London Film Festival for its international premiere on October 13. After that, starting this autumn, The Irishman will be available on your nearest couch, laptop and smartphone.

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