See two first-look images from the upcoming gangster film starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci

By Joey Nolfi
July 29, 2019 at 12:00 PM EDT
Niko Tavernise/Netflix

The New York Film Festival is banking on the luck of The Irishman to kick off its 2019 edition.

Film at Lincoln Center — previously known as the Film Society of Lincoln Center — announced Monday that Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating historical crime film will launch the 57th New York Film Festival as this year’s opening night film on Friday, Sept. 27, at the Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan.

Billed as a “richly textured epic of American crime, a dense, complex story told with astonishing fluidity,” The Irishman is based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses, which tells the story of Frank Sheeran, a mafia hitman rumored to have played a role in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa. Longtime Scorsese collaborator Robert De Niro plays Sheeran, while Al Pacino and Joe Pesci costar as Hoffa and Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino, respectively. Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano, and Jesse Plemons also have supporting roles in the film, which is slated to hit theaters and Netflix later this year with a screenplay by Oscar-winning writer Steven Zaillian.

The film’s official synopsis describes the tale as one “about friendship and loyalty between men who commit unspeakable acts and turn on a dime against each other, and the possibility of redemption in a world where it seems as distant as the moon.” It marks the 76-year-old filmmaking icon’s first feature directorial effort since 2016’s Silence.

“It’s an incredible honor that The Irishman has been selected as the Opening Night of the New York Film Festival. I greatly admire the bold and visionary selections that the festival presents to audiences year after year,” Scorsese said in a press statement. “The festival is critical to bringing awareness to cinema from around the world. I am grateful to have the opportunity to premiere my new picture in New York alongside my wonderful cast and crew.”

Niko Tavernise/Netflix

Touted as the world-premiere screening, The Irishman‘s late-September bow in New York means it will sit out the other major film festivals of the season, bypassing the more traditionally awards-positioning festivals like Telluride, Venice, and Toronto in favor of a hometown premiere.

Since 2009, the New York Film Festival has hosted opening-night screenings for several films that have gone on to become major Oscar contenders, including David Fincher’s Facebook-themed drama The Social Network (2010), Ang Lee’s visionary Life of Pi (2012), Paul Greengrass’ thriller Captain Phillips (2013), Fincher’s literary adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2014), Ava DuVernay’s prison industrial complex documentary 13th (2016), and last year’s Yorgos Lanthimos-directed Best Picture nominee The Favourite.

The Irishman is expected to follow in those films’ footsteps as a potential contender in the awards race ahead — especially given its reportedly extensive use of visual effects to de-age its stars.

The 2019 New York Film Festival runs for 17 days, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 13. Tickets go on sale to the general public Sept. 8, while VIP passes are on sale now.

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