Nominations for 92nd Academy Awards were announced Monday morning with one notable epic film “The Irishman” up for Best Picture. This classic mob movie collected 10 nominations, with Martin Scorsese receiving his ninth nomination for best director.
“The Irishman” (also titled onscreen as “I Heard You Paint Houses”) is an American epic crime film based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, with Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel in supporting roles. The film follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). According to Sheeran, the first conversation he had with Hoffa was over the phone, where Hoffa started by saying, “I heard you paint houses”—a mob code meaning: I heard you kill people, the “paint” being the blood that splatters when bullets are fired into a body.
For those with affection for mob films and mediation (I know, an odd mix but this is a mediation blog after all), there is a scene where De Niro’s character, Frank Sheeran, is tasked with resolving a dispute between the mob and Hoffa. De Niro is a mediator of sorts, albeit a lousy mediator.
The disagreement arose while Hoffa is in prison, and his replacement atop the Teamsters begins overspending the labor union’s pension fund and making interest-free loans to the Mafia. After Hoffa has his sentence commuted by President Richard Nixon in 1971, he wants to take back his job with the Teamsters although he is forbidden from partaking in any Teamsters activities. Despite his parole terms, Hoffa begins to reclaim his power with the unions. Hoffa’s growing disrespect for other Teamster leaders and related crime family interests begins to worry the mob, creating the need for a good and effective mediator.
De Niro’s character is tasked with the job of mediator by delivering the news that the mob is displeased with Hoffa’s efforts to reclaim his position with the union. De Niro, serving as mediator, must find a way to convince the mob and Hoffa to settle their differences. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work out well.
De Niro takes a mediator low-key approach by sharing a warning that the heads of the crime families are displeased with Hoffa’s behavior. Hoffa then informs De Niro that he knows things that makes him untouchable, for if anything ever happened to him the mob bosses would all end up in prison.
What does De Niro’s character do as a mediator? He lets Hoffa know that he “is concerned.” He does not take an evaluative approach with Hoffa. Under the Minnesota General Rules of Practice, Rule 114(a)(7), this would be known as a facilitative process where the neutral party merely facilitates communications between the parties. He only passes along the mob’s demands with a statement about “concern.”
Now, we will never know Hoffa’s response in real life because he has never been seen since July 30, 1975. Perhaps an evaluative approach, such as a non-binding advisory opinion, would have worked Hoffa through the various scenarios of what would happen if the parties did not find a peaceful solution. Hoffa might have realized that he was getting a settlement offer that he could not refuse.
But, De Niro’s character was a lousy mediator. The parties took their disagreement to a new level and, in the end, everyone lost.