“THE IRISHMAN” — 312 stars — Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Anna Paquin, Joe Pesci; R (pervasive language and strong violence); in general release; running time: 209 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — “The Irishman” is a long drive, but for Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro fans, the destination should be worth a few pit stops.

The film — based on Charles Brandt’s nonfiction book “I Heard You Paint Houses” — tells the story of former union driver and mobster hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, who spent years in the confidence of longtime Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa.

Over its 209-minute run time, “The Irishman” pivots between three storylines. The first frames the film, as Sheeran (De Niro) narrates his tale from a nursing home near the end of his life. The second storyline covers Sheeran’s rise from his job as a truck driver to a Teamster president and Jimmy Hoffa’s right-hand man, and the third centers around Sheeran’s claimed involvement in the events surrounding Hoffa’s mysterious disappearance in August 1975.

From left to right: During a break in the trial of Jimmy Hoffa, Chuckie O’Brien (Jesse Plemons), Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano), Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and Hoffa (Al Pacino) are shocked at the news of JFK’s assassination. | Netflix

Sheeran’s rise to infamy is punctuated by a series of familiar historical names, all played by familiar faces. Sheeran’s mentor is a Philadelphia mob boss named Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), who offers him a guiding hand while dealing with power brokers like Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel). At first, Sheeran is just making contacts, but eventually he makes his reputation as someone willing to “paint houses,” a slang term for a mob hit.

In time, his path leads to Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), whose power and influence practically rivals the president of the United States. In fact, during this part of the movie, Sheeran claims that organized crime helped get President Kennedy elected in 1960, with the understanding that he would oust Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

For a stretch, Sheeran becomes almost a mafia equivalent of Forrest Gump, as we see major events of the 1960s play out from his underworld perspective. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK’s assassination pass by as Hoffa negotiates the machinations between the Teamsters and organized crime. Later we see Hoffa go in and out of prison, and everything builds toward the August 1975 showdown that, while compelling, may be best taken with a cautious grain of salt.

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) has conflicting loyalties in “The Irishman.” | Netflix

Despite its historical context, the heart of “The Irishman” lies in the relationships between its characters. It’s interesting as it is to see Sheeran’s interactions with Bufalino and Hoffa, but the most compelling dynamic is with his daughter Peggy (played as a child by Lucy Gallina, then as an adult by Anna Paquin). Their relationship is shaded during Peggy’s childhood when Sheeran violently assaults a local grocer, and Peggy’s standoffishness around Bufalino is countered by her strange grandfatherly affection for Hoffa. Scorsese uses Sheeran’s gaze as the conscience of the film, and given the film’s options, Peggy is really the only choice.

The performances are excellent, and aside from an early exception, the aging transformations used for the film’s principal characters — especially De Niro — are fantastic. Scorsese also peppers the film with spurts of dark comedy, such as a running gag where the director introduces a character with a freeze frame that details his eventual murder.

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Fans of Scorsese’s deep dives into the world of organized crime will enjoy “The Irishman’s” lengthy tale, even if it lacks some of the obvious iconic moments of the director’s previous films (think of Pesci’s “funny how?” scene from “Goodfellas”). Like those films, “The Irishman” draws an R rating for sudden bursts of violence (mostly shootings) and spurts of profanity.

To its credit, even at nearly 3 1/2 hours, “The Irishman” doesn’t start to feel long until you know you’re just about at the end. And given that Scorsese’s film will move to Netflix after a short theatrical run, you could probably take it in installments anyway. 

The likelihood, though, is that people who enjoy “The Irishman” won’t be too concerned about the run time. Scorsese has produced another character-driven mob epic, and longtime fans should be happy to take the ride.

Rating explained: “The Irishman” draws an R rating for consistent adult profanity and various epithets, as well as episodes of violence (mostly in the form of mob assassinations).