Cardella: The Medigan

I just watched THE IRISHMAN with my Uncle Nunzi. Uncle calls the movie THE MEDIGAN. “Medigan” is Italian slang for anyone who’s not Italian. Uncle Nunzi divides the world into two groups. Italians and Medigans. Medigan is not a nice word. It’s a contraction of the words merde de cannes, meaning “dog poop.” Uncle uses the term medigan in the broadest possible sense. Anyone who uses mayonnaise is a medigan, in Uncle’s world. Uncle is not happy with the Martin Scorsese movie that is captivating many critics.

A brief summary of the movie is in order. The Scorsese film is based on the book I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES by Charles Brandt. The book tells the allegedly true story of Frank Sheeran, a mobbed-up guy who claimed in a deathbed confession that he’d killed Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran claims he was a “house painter.” In mob lingo, to “paint a house” is to kill someone. That claim has been disputed by Bill Tonelli, a journalist from South Philadelphia and former editor of this newspaper. Brandt and Tonelli are currently engaged in a very public disagreement over the veracity of Sheeran’s claim. Tonelli is a friend and terrific journalist. I’m going with Tonelli on this one. In the meantime, Scorsese has made a successful film version of the book. It’s the film, specifically the casting, that has Uncle all upset.

Uncle is less than thrilled with the casting of Robert De Niro as (Irish) Frank Sheeran. In order to understand Uncle’s displeasure, you must understand that he’s very sensitive over what’s called ethnic and racial appropriation. Uncle is still ticked off at Marlon Brando being chosen to play Don Vito Corleone in THE GODFATHER. Uncle’s exact words when he heard that Brando was cast in the part were “What, they couldn’t find an Italian to play the part?” While the critics raved about Brando, Uncle thought he mumbled through the role as if he had a bunch of fava beans in his mouth. Uncle believes it’s the Irish who should be insulted by the casting of Robert De Niro as THE IRSHMAN. He’s got a point.

As my Aunt Millie would’ve said, De Niro has the map of Italy on his face. De Niro’s “blue” eyes in the film don’t change that fact. What, Scorsese couldn’t find a medigan to play the part? If you Google a photo of the real Frank Sheeran, you would have to agree. The real Sheeran had the map of Ireland on his face. And Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa? Uncle is steamed over that, too.

It’s nothing personal with Uncle. He loves Pacino and De Niro. But once you’ve seen Jack Nicholson play Hoffa, you realize that in THE IRISHMAN, Al Pacino is just playing Al Pacino with a bad haircut. Scorsese used a cinematic innovation that de-aged De Niro, Pacino and Joe Pesci (who steals the spotlight as mobster Russell Buffalino). All three actors are in their 70s. Maybe Scorsese should’ve just de-aged Nicholson to reprise his role as Hoffa. After all, Nicholson is only three years older than Pacino. By the way, Scorsese cast Nicholson to play a gangster named Costello in THE DEPARTED. Marty, what’s with that? Proving that he has a sense of humor, Scorsese chose Harvey Keitel, whose parents were Jews from Romania and Poland, as Angelo Bruno. Uncle is guessing that Marty used up all the available Italian actors playing the other roles in the film. I think Keitel was fine in the brief time he’s on screen, but Uncle just wants there to be some consistency in matching up the ethnicity with the characters. I’m still ticked they used Anglo actors to play Charlie Chan.

I’ve got bigger problems with the movie. It runs 3 hours and 30 minutes without an intermission. Just 28 minutes short of GONE WITH THE WIND. Olivia DeHavilland is 103 years old, and half her time was spent filming GONE WITH THE WIND. You better get that prostate surgery you were postponing before you sit down and watch THE IRISHMAN.

Of course, if your purpose is to build up the role of Sheeran, heretofore known as only a peripheral figure in the history of the Mob, you need a whole lot of screen time just to account for the alleged hits he was involved in. Critics of Sheeran claim he may have ordered hits, but he never actually painted houses. Frank would’ve had to be the Sherwin Williams of hit men to kill the number he claimed. Sherwin Williams covered the globe. In the book and movie, Sheeran is cast as the guy who not only killed Hoffa, but claimed to have killed 25 to 30 others as well. Understandably, Sheeran lost count. I’m certain Frank wasn’t in Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot, but who knows?

In all fairness, the movie is entertaining. Scorsese held a reunion with a gathering of his friends from his previous celebrated Mob movies, and it was fun. It was also fun watching De Niro, Pacino and Pesci as they looked in their heyday. If Oscars voters give points for sentimentality, THE IRISHMAN should garner some big awards.

Did Sheeran provide us with the definitive answer as to what happened to Hoffa? It’s just as likely that Jimmy’s buried under the old SOUTH PHILLY REVIEW office.

And Uncle thinks Frank Sheeran was a mayonnaise eater. ••

You can see Tom Cardella Monday nights at 6 p.m. with a former member of the Philadelphia Eagles on, or listen to the rebroadcast on Tuesday nights at 5 p.m. on 610 AM ESPN Radio.