In 2007, development on the project commenced after Robert De Niro read Brandt's book with Scorsese set to direct, and De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci set to star. According to Deadline, before accepting the role of Russell Bufalino, Pesci refused multiple times to come out of retirement in order to appear in this film. Some sources say the actual number of refusals was fifty. In July 2009, Brandt received a phone call from De Niro. In August, Brandt then met with Scorsese and Zaillian. The project was initially set up at Paramount Pictures, who was planning to release it domestically, as well as Media Asia, who picked up Chinese distribution, and STX Entertainment, who took international rights. However, the project fell into development hell due to new plot materials, rewrites, scheduling conflicts, and budget concerns, and led to Paramount losing confidence in the film. Scorsese couldn't get a Hollywood studio to back the film, claiming nobody was interested in making a film with him and De Niro anymore. Ultimately, Netflix acquired the film rights for $105 million and agreed to finance the film's proposed $125 million budget with a projected release date of October 2019. Scorsese went on to direct Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2014) and Silence (2016) instead. In September 2014, Pacino confirmed that the film would be his next project after Silence. In October 2015, De Niro stated that the film was still happening, and Zaillian was hired to pen the script. In July 2017, it was reported that the film would be presented as a series of flashbacks of an older Frank Sheeran, depicted as recollecting his many criminal activities over several decades, with De Niro appearing "as young as 24 years and as old as 80."
By mid September 2017, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, and Domenick Lombardozzi rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a finalised budget of $159 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early March 2018. Filming took place in a hundred and seventeen different locations throughout New York and Long Island. The film was shot on both 35mm film and digital with the Arricam ST & LT cameras, as well as the RED Helium cameras. The latter was utilised for the de-aging sequences, and they required de-aging effects were shot digitally with a custom three-camera rig. Industrial Light & Magic and visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman handled the effects for the film. De-aging was facilitated by infrared makeup and flesh-colored tracking markers glued to the actors' skin. These tracking marks were then illuminated with infrared light, invisible to the main Helium camera but visible to the two witness-cameras attached to the rig. The two auxiliary witness-cameras captured facial performance data based on these infrared markers and allowed a portion of the complex de-aging process to be automated. A posture coach was brought on set to offer tips to De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci on how to comport themselves like much younger men.
In February 2019, it was reported that Netflix would possibly give the film a wide theatrical release, at the request of Scorsese. However, due to Netflix's financial backing, the film had some serious side effects with regards to its theatrical release. The film would receive a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019 in the United States. As part of the continuing tensions between the film markets for direct to digital streaming and theatrical releases and distribution of films, several theater chains protested the policy of Netflix for the film's release. The film will not play at the theaters owned by AMC, Cinemark, Regal or Cineplex, because the "four week progression to SVOD remains unacceptable to those chains." The heads of several theater chains, including AMC's Adam Aron, who refused to play Roma the previous November, said they would only be open to playing the film if Netflix "respects the decades old theatrical window, that suggests that movies come to theaters first for a couple of months, and then go to the home." Two major chains offered to exhibit the film if given an exclusivity window of 60 days, approximately two weeks shorter than the typical window, but could not reach an agreement with Netflix.
All of the performances are first-rate; De Niro is just stellar, Pacino is steals the show, Pesci stands out with his surprisingly subdued manner, and Romano, Cannavale, Paquin, Graham, and Keitel are strong as strong can be. The film has been beautifully cast from the leading roles to the bits.
Hard-hitting and stylish, The Irishman is, and will be, a gangster classic - and will arguably be one of the high point of Scorsese's career. No finer film has ever been made about organized crime. More than any earlier Scorsese film, the film is memorable for the ensemble nature of the performances. Despite the three and a half-hour length, it is Scorsese's triumph, and the film offers the most immersive and sharpest ride in recent film history. Every crisp minute of this long, teeming movie vibrates with outlaw energy. Big, rich, powerful and explosive. One of Scorsese's best films! It is great entertainment. The film is, without a doubt, great cinema—and also a whopping good time both on Netflix and in the cinemas.
Also, see my review for Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.