The Irishman is based on I Heard You Paint Houses, Charles Brandt’s book about the confessions of mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. As you’ve probably guessed, Sheeran was better with a gun than a paintbrush.
As seen in the film, which opens in theaters Friday, “I heard you paint houses” is one of the first things Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) says to Sheeran (Robert De Niro). As Sheeran explained in Brandt’s book:
“The first words Jimmy ever spoke to me were ‘I heard you paint houses.’ The paint is the blood that supposedly gets on the wall or the floor when you shoot somebody. I told Jimmy, ‘I do my own carpentry work, too.’ That refers to making coffins and means you get rid of the bodies yourself.”
The words “I Heard You Paint Houses,” appear onscreen early in The Irishman as if they were the title of the film. It’s a strong nod to Brandt’s source material. Brandt, a former prosecutor, won Sheeran’s trust after helping get him released from jail on medical grounds in 1991, and interviewed Sheeran afterwards. Sheeran had second thoughts, but resumed his interviews with Brandt in 1999.
The book, like the movie, is full of mob slang, including not just “I heard you paint houses” but also mafia colloquialisms like “going to school” (going to prison) and “candy” (explosives). It’s a fascinating read, and reading it before you see The Irishman won’t ruin the movie for you.
The book purports to solve the mystery of what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, a labor leader who, as the movie explains, is unknown to many people today. But in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, he was respected and feared for his control of the Teamsters, and specifically the trucks that delivered necessities to people all over America. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Sheeran says Hoffa preferred to call him “Booby Kennedy,”) declared legal war on Hoffa as he tried to connect him with Mafia muscle and put him behind bars.
Hoffa was eventually convicted of jury tampering in Nashville, and disappeared in 1975 as he was attempting to regain control of the Teamsters. It was around this time, Sheeran writes, that someone decided to paint his house. But we’ll let you see the movie, and perhaps read “I Heard You Paint Houses,” too.
We here at MovieMaker will be citing the book a lot for the next few days.
As De Niro and director Martin Scorsese have explained, they were initially interested in adapting the addictive Don Winslow novel The Winter of Frankie Machine, about a retired Southern California gangster-surfer dragged back into criminal life, when they discovered Brandt’s book and considered combining the two stories. But I Heard You Paint Houses won out, overtaking the Winslow project.
The Irishman is now streaming on Netflix.