Netflix reportedly is not yet willing to commit to giving Martin Scorsese’s gangster saga The Irishman a theatrical release. Starring a Scorsese all-star team of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale and Jack Huston – along with Scorsese newbie Al Pacino – The Irishman charts the career of Frank Sheeran, an alleged mob hitman who late in life claimed to have been involved in the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters president whose disappearance remains one of the 20th Century’s great unsolved mysteries. The film is expected to come out in 2019.
Scorsese’s ambitious plan for The Irishman includes using CGI to de-age star Robert De Niro, allowing him to play a younger Frank Sheeran in flashback sequences. The huge expense of employing such effects caused Paramount to back out of financing the film, so Netflix stepped in to put up the cash. As part of Netflix’s agreement with Scorsese, it’s believed the streaming service promised The Irishman would get at least a two-week theatrical run in order to qualify it for the Oscars.
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However, Variety is reporting that Netflix has not entirely committed to putting The Irishman in theaters. Netflix’s publicity head Julie Fontaine told the publication it’s “premature” to say anything concrete about distribution plans for the film, whose budget reportedly will end up north of $125 million before it’s over.
Netflix is becoming a bigger player in feature film distribution and production, which this summer led to a mini-controversy after two Netflix films – Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories – played at the Cannes Film Festival, upsetting traditionalists who think Cannes should only be for movies that show in grimy art house theaters. Both Okja and Meyerowitz did get day-and-date theatrical releases with their debuts on Netflix, and the same will also happen for Dee Rees’ Mudbound, which is getting Oscar buzz.
Given Scorsese’s track-record as an Oscar darling – he’s been nominated for Best Director 8 times, winning once – it only makes sense for Netflix to give The Irishman at least a limited release and afford it a chance to garner some awards-season love. For Netflix, half the point of taking on projects like The Irishman is to gain legitimacy and prestige within Hollywood, but in order to reap the benefits of that they must make their films available theatrically. Netflix may wish to blow up distribution models entirely, but the Hollywood establishment and the Academy for now want to keep things traditional, so Netflix to some extent has to play along.
While the suits at Netflix work out how best to distribute the film, Martin Scorsese remains hard-at-work shooting The Irishman around New York. Recent set photos have provided the first glimpses of Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran.