This is certainly an odd thing to say—the next film from master director Martin Scorsese will debut on Netflix. Indeed, IndieWire reports that the streaming giant is in the process of closing what’s sure to be a mega-deal to secure the rights to Scorsese’s long-developing gangster pic The Irishman, which reunites the filmmaker with Robert De Niro in the starring role. The film was initially set up at Paramount Pictures, but with news breaking earlier this week that Paramount chairman Brad Grey is on his way out, Scorsese and Co. started looking for other suitors.
After a string of pricey underperformers like Monster Trucks, Ben-Hur, and Allied the studio is likely in no position to gamble $100 million on Scorsese’s next opus, but some say it was Scorsese’s own Silence that finally broke the camel’s back and lead to Grey’s impending ouster. The passion project has grossed only $7 million domestically after nearly two months in release, although much of the blame must be rested on Paramount’s shoulders as the studio rushed the film out at the tail end of December with little time for critics and awards screenings beforehand. They should’ve held it for a Cannes debut and let this film take the slow-and-steady route, as it’s an intense meditation on faith and life that doesn’t offer up easy answers and would have benefited from a longer rollout.
And so now Scorsese’s going to Netflix, where he’ll get his full $100 million budget for The Irishman and no doubt final cut. The film is based on the true story of Frank Sheeran, a Teamsters official with ties to the Bufalino crime family who confessed to the murder of Jimmy Hoffa before his death in 2003. Schindler’s List scribe and The Night Of creator Steven Zaillian penned the script, and the film has been percolating for a few years now as Scorsese intends to use CG technology to de-age De Niro and cover large swaths of Sheeran’s life.
My feelings on The Irishman going to Netflix are mixed. On the one hand, this ensures that Scorsese will absolutely get to make the movie he wants to make and secures worldwide distribution that will make it available to a massive audience all at once. It’s no secret that Scorsese battled Paramount on the runtime of The Wolf of Wall Street, but on Netflix there are basically no limits—especially for someone like Scorsese—so this is a creatively fertile deal. On the other hand, Netflix doesn’t have the same theatrical distribution model that Amazon does, which means the prospects of seeing the next Martin Scorsese film on the big screen are in doubt.
Apparently the idea is to do a day-and-date release on Netflix streaming and in theaters, but Netflix tried this with Beasts of No Nation and was met with resistance from theater chains who were angry that the movie was already on streaming (Amazon holds its films for an extended window before putting them up on Amazon Prime Video). This isn’t the first time Scorsese will be making something that will largely be seen on television screens, as he also directed the pilots for Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl, but it is yet another example of the paradigm shift away from traditional distribution models when it comes to film.
So my hope is that by the time The Irishman is release—which is expected to be 2019 as filming gets underway later this year—Netflix will have a better track record of theatrical releases. I love that a massive amount of people will be able to see The Irishman, but I really wanna see this thing on the big screen first and I doubt I’m alone.