LONDON — Martin Scorsese reunites with Robert De Niro in The Irishman, a 3-1/2 hour long mob drama the acclaimed director said he chose to do with his frequent collaborator to build on their past work together rather than replicate it.

Set over several decades, The Irishman looks at a Pennsylvania organized crime family with Oscar winners De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in the main roles.

The Netflix movie, which closes the BFI London Film Festival on Sunday, uses digital de-ageing technology to show the characters in their 30s and 40s. De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino are all in their 70s.

The project is Scorsese’s and De Niro’s latest collaboration following acclaimed works like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino.

“I was really looking for something with Bob (De Niro) to enrich more or less where we had gone in the ’70s and the ’80s and the early ’90s,” the 76-year-old director told a news conference.

“To just replicate what we had been trying to do at the beginning of our careers wouldn’t be enriching in any way.”

The film, which runs just short of 3-1/2 hours, begins with elderly narrator Frank Sheeran, played by De Niro, recounting his life.

Told in flashbacks, the audience sees him as a soldier, truck driver, and eventually mob hitman after meeting organized crime boss Russell Bufalino, played by Pesci.

The plot, based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses, is tied to the disappearance of former US Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa, portrayed by Pacino in his first Scorsese collaboration.

“I’d known Marty and Bob a very long time so when Bob… called me… it sounded really interesting and the opportunity to work with them was very important to me,” Pacino said. “For years, we almost worked together Marty and I.”

The film, which has won rave reviews from critics touting it an Oscar contender, will have a limited theatrical run before and after its Nov. 27 Netflix release.

“The original conception of what a film is and where it’s to be seen has now changed so radically,” Scorsese said.

“Something that should always be protected as much as possible… is a communal experience and I think that’s best in the theater. Now homes are becoming theaters too, it’s a major change and I think one has to keep an open mind.”

Asked about watching younger versions of themselves, Pacino who described the de-ageing effects as “a form of make-up,” said: “This whole thing is innovative of course but at the same time, you tell a story, and in the end I’m a little more concerned about that.” — Reuters