Martin Scorsese's new crime epic, The Irishman, is now streaming on Netflix, telling the supposedly true story of Frank Sheeran and his involvement with the mob, but the movie comes from a tale that may have been largely fabricated. The Irishman stars Robert De Niro as Sheeran, whose nickname gives the film its title, and also stars Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.

While much has been made of the movie's legendary cast and director, its huge budget (estimated to be around $160 million), epic 3.5-hour runtime, and, of course, its CGI de-aging technology, one of the most compelling elements is that the events depicted in The Irishman are true, or at least allegedly so. Scorsese's Netflix movie is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa, written by Charles Brandt and published back in 2004.

The book - and thus The Irishman - comes from a series of interviews Brandt conducted with Sheeran towards the end of the latter's life. It's one man's account, which means that many of the claims made, while making for great drama, are either unverified or widely disputed. Although some of The Irishman unquestionably happened, there's much of the movie that could simply be a work of fiction.


As described in the movie, Frank Sheeran was an Irish Catholic who, at a young age, enlisted in the US Army, where he served a quite remarkable 411 days of active duty. This much of Sheeran's life, and the basics that accompany it - growing up in Pennsylvania, for instance - come from his own accounts like the rest of the movie, but are seemingly true, although whether Sheeran killed as many people as he claims to have while in the armed forces is unclear. Little is known about Sheeran's life before joining the Teamsters and working for the mob, which is partially why the movie doesn't spend too much time on the matter (it's also not where the heart of the story lies).

While many of Sheeran's specific claims are disputed, they are placed within a framework of fact that at least makes them appear more believable. Sheeran was connected to both the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, where he worked his way up the ranks, and the Mafia itself, in particular the Bufalino crime family, although perhaps not to quite the degree he - and subsequently The Irishman - suggests. Russell Bufalino (played by Joe Pesci) was a key figure within this, while much of what the movie presents about Jimmy Hoffa is true. That includes his popularity as the head of the Teamsters, and his long dispute with Robert F. Kennedy that ultimately landed Hoffa behind bars. Like in the film, his sentence was cut short thanks to a pardon from Richard Nixon. After his release, Hoffa was not supposed to run for control of the union again, but did so anyway, which eventually led to his disappearance. Again, many of these events are depicted accurately in the movie, which is less surprising because Hoffa was a major player in America at the time, and thus far more well-known (and well-documented) than Sheeran.

The Irishman features a wide array of characters who are based on real-life figures, including Anthony "Tony Pro" Provelzano (Stephen Graham), Chuckie O'Brien (Jesse Plemons), Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel), Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo (Sebastian Maniscalco), and most other peopled named. All were, as depicted, players with influence in the mob, and some involved in the Teamsters union too. The falling out between Tony Pro and Hoffa, for example, did happen with a dispute between the two in prison, although it's believed the pair were close friends before that (which isn't shown in the movie).


The biggest moment of The Irishman - the one the movie and, before that, Brandt's book, is based around - is Frank Sheeran killing Jimmy Hoffa in Detroit in 1975. The Irishman builds and builds to get to this point, layering the relationship of Frank and Jimmy, developing the former's ties to both the Teamsters and the Mafia, and the latter's attempts to reclaim control of the union, which is what puts him in the mob's crosshairs. But while it's true that Hoffa was killed in Detroit on the date the movie gives - or at least, he disappeared then, as it was a few years later he was officially announced dead by law officials - it's unlikely, if not impossible, that Sheeran was the one who did it.

The only claim that Sheeran is the person who killed Jimmy Hoffa comes from Sheeran himself, and it was made shortly before he died. There's reason to believe that Sheeran was involved in some capacity, but little to suggest he carried out the hit himself. The house Sheeran claimed to have murdered Hoffa in - the one we see in The Irishman -turned up some DNA, but it didn't match Hoffa. Some theories posit that Sheeran was there as a friendly face to make Hoffa feel comfortable, even if he didn't carry out the hit, which is plausible. However, Robert Garrity, the agent leading the FBI's investigation into Hoffa's disappearance, said (via The Daily Beast): "Was he there that day? I have no indication he was there." Across the investigation, Sheeran was a person of interest but not a murder suspect, although he was known to be in the Detroit area around the time of Hoffa's disappearance.

Others have been stronger on Sheeran's lack of involvement. Dan Moldea, a writer who spent decades investigating the Hoffa case, and wrote a book on it in 1978, told Slate that while Sheeran was "definitely involved" he "confessed to a murder he didnít commit." In fact, Moldea even told as much to Robert De Niro when they met in 2014, after he heard the actor was circling Sheeran's story. Several other sources close to the case have made similar comments over the years, from journalists to fellow mobsters, but there's another name that jumps out as a strong denial: Sheeran himself. As per Slate, in 1995 he told Kitty Caparella, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, "I did not kill Hoffa and I had nothing to do with it."

Of course, if not Sheeran, then who? Over a dozen names have been linked with the murder of Jimmy Hoffa since his disappearance in 1975, but no one has ever been convicted. However, we do know that, as in the movie, Hoffa had a brewing rivalry with Tony Pro that is believed to have led to his death. Salvatore Briguglio, a close associate of Provelzano (thought to be his main enforced), was featured in an inconclusive line-up, yet he is considered the most likely suspect by most. The Hoffex Memo, the FBI's summary of their initial investigation, considered him to be the one involved in his actual disappearance. What we know is that Hoffa was last seen in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Detroit, and that he'd told his wife he was going to meet Provenzano for a clear-the-air meeting many had wanted for months, and that afternoon he disappeared. Was Sheeran there? Maybe. Did he kill him? It seems not.


With the biggest moment of The Irishman seemingly built on the lie of one person, told to one other, at the very end of his life when there'd be zero consequences for him (but a potential monetary advantage for his family), then it begs the question of what else Sheeran might have lied about, and thus might else in The Irishman isn't true. As it happens, there is perhaps quite a lot. Sheeran was definitely involved with the Teamsters, and certainly had a relationship with both Hoffa and Bufalino, but little else has been verified about his status, influence, or actions.

The killing of Crazy Joe Gallo is, besides the killing of Hoffa, the other defining moment of The Irishman. It is, at that point, Sheeran's biggest kill. As in the movie, Gallo was killed in a restaurant in Little Italy. Like Hoffa, no one was charged or convicted for the murder. In the Netflix movie, Sheeran kills Gallo on the orders of Russell Bufalino, whom Gallo was rude to previously and was becoming a problem for. Sheeran had informants tell him where Gallo was dining, and went and carried out the hit himself. However, other versions of events are quite different. At the time, Gallo had long been feuding with the Colombo crime family. Again, events differ slightly, but not by as much: it's believed that Colombo family members saw Gallo at the comedy club watch Don Rickles (as seen in The Irishman) and followed him, or that they were tipped off after he entered Umberto's Clam House. However it happened, the general consensus is that it was the Colombo crime family and their associates who were responsible for killing Gallo that night, not Sheeran.

This then calls into account Sheeran's entire time as a supposed hitman and enforcer for the mob. John Carlyle Berkery, a fellow Irish mobster from Philadelphia, told Slate: "I'm telling you, heís full of s**t! Frank Sheeran never killed a fly. The only things he ever killed were countless jugs of red wine. You could tell how drunk he was by the color of his teeth: pink, just started; dark purple, stiff." It's true that Sheeran was never convicted of killing anybody, nor even arrested on suspicion of such. He was involved in the Teamsters and the Mafia (they seemingly went hand in hand back then), but most of his other claims as portrayed in The Irishman, while rooted in true events, are lacking in evidence.