What happened to Jimmy Hoffa – is Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman based on a true story?

The characters are real, but some of the narrative strands are up for debate (Picture: Netflix)

Martin Scorsese’s latest mob film, The Irishman, is now available on Netflix, after a limited theatrical release and festival circuit.

The Goodfellas director assembled his old crew – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – to create the 3.5 hour-long masterpiece, which earned a 4.5 star review from

Using CGI to de-age the actors, the film cost a reported $160 million (£130 million) to make.

The gangster flick follows protagonist Frank Sheeran – dubbed the Irishman – as he recounts his life as a hitman, and his encounters with union official Jimmy Hoffa and the Bufalino crime family.

It’s based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, but how much of it the story is true? We take a look.

Join us, but be warned that some spoilers lie ahead…

Is Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman based on a true story?

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The book which the film is based on, I Heard You Paint Houses, was written by former investigator and defense attorney Charles Brandt, and recounts the alleged confessions of Frank Sheeran.

The former war veteran and gangster fought in World War II before returning to the US, where he was employed by the notorious Bufalino crime family.

Through this, he became close to union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who served as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

In the film, the pair form a brotherly bond, even sharing hotel rooms and becoming close to one another’s family – until Sheeran shoots Hoffa, on the orders of Russell Bufalino.

While the closeness of the pair is subject to some scrutiny, it’s widely recognised that Sheeran and Hoffa both worked with the mafia, and one another.

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The film mirrors the narrative of the book, but doubts have been cast over the accuracy of Brandt’s story and Sheeran’s testimony.

A professor at Harvard Law, Jack Goldsmith, wrote an essay for Slate claiming that many of the stories and ‘hits’ were fabricated by Sheeran.

He doubted Sheeran was responsible for so many notorious mafia hits, and described his story as an ‘an astounding saga. Almost too good to be true. No, let’s say it: too good to be true.’

Sheeran died of cancer in 2003 so we’ll never truly know.

Who was union rep Jimmy Hoffa, and what happened to him?

Union rep Jimmy Hoffa was a prominent US union activist (Picture: Getty)

Jimmy Hoffa was elected as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1957 and fast established himself as one of the most prominent figures in union history.

Under his rule the Teamsters were the largest labour union in the US, and Hoffa himself became a household name.

The Teamsters were closely linked to the mafia, whom they shared their abundant pension fund with, to pull favours, and fund the mafia’s ecosystem.

True to the film, Hoffa spent several years in a federal prison after being convicted by then-attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy.

Robert De Niro – complete with CGI – plays hitman Frank Sheeran (Picture: Netflix / Backgrid)

Despite being locked away, he refused to relinquish control of his union – an unpopular move for the mob and his predecessors.

In 1975 he disappeared after reportedly leaving his house in Detroit to attend a meeting with mafia and union officials.

His disappearance was never officially ‘solved’ and while FBI files dictate that Sheeran was in Detroit during the the time of Hoffa’s death, there is no evidence to indicate he carried it out.

You can watch the Irishman on Netflix now

MORE: What time is The Irishman released on Netflix and who is in the cast of the Martin Scorsese movie?

MORE: Netflix UK in November 2019: Best new shows from The Crown to The Irishman


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