For most of its existence, Netflix has sworn devotion to a model that puts content on the devices of its millions of subscribers as quickly and conveniently as possibly.

And for much of his career, Martin Scorsese has pledged fidelity to the purest form of cinema, one in which films are made in the most exacting way and then consumed at a particular moment by a select group of people.

Now the two have joined forces.

In a sign of just how strange the streaming wars' bedfellows can be, Scorsese is poised to debut "The Irishman," a 3.5 hour, US$150 million mob epic that reunites him with stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. The distributor? Netflix.

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The company world-premiered the movie at the New York Film Festival Friday, ahead of a limited theatrical run beginning Nov. 1 and a worldwide release to Netflix's roughly 160 million subscribers Nov. 27.

The film world and Hollywood are watching closely. However the movie is received, "The Irishman" marks a watershed moment - either signaling a fresh mode of collaboration between Hollywood's old and new guards or showing how incompatible, and commercially unwise, such a partnership would be.

"The question for this film is clearly one of stakes," said Kent Jones, the director of the New York Film Festival and a close friend of Scorsese. "But stakes for whom? Netflix? Studios? Martin Scorsese?"

L-R: Director Martin Scorsese and
L-R: Director Martin Scorsese and "The Irishman" starts Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. Photo / Netflix

Or, he said, "It could be all of them."

At a time when Netflix has become a kind of old-dog in a digital-content landscape soon to be beset by Apple, Disney and others, "The Irishman" is proving to be a surprisingly new and unknown experiment for the company.

Much like how the "House of Cards" set Netflix on a course of big-budget, high-end television six year ago, and made us think about the streaming service differently in the process, "The Irishman" could have a similar impact with feature films. While Netflix has made high-end dramas before ("Roma") and big-budget commercial movies ("Bright") it's never combined the two in this way.

Not that there aren't challenges. From a distribution standpoint, there is the movie's length, a director's cut-size that even the friendliest of studios rarely allows these days. There is also the scope, spanning some five decades in the life of De Niro's lead hit-man character Frank and his intersection with Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino. And finally, there is the film's tone, a kind of low-key melancholia that is the opposite of a big, buzzy crime movie and its accompanying social-media traction that streaming services crave.

From the director's standpoint, the issue is simple: he is in a place that feels deeply un-Scorsese-like.

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Scorsese is one of the last of Hollywood's bankable auteurs - he's had four original movies that took in more than US$100 million, a rarity in an era when such earnings are almost always for franchise movies. Collectively, his movies have grossed nearly $2 billion around the world. He also remains one of the directors who embodies Hollywood's ability to hold the line against the onslaught of comicbooks and branded properties, nearly always generating his own material or adapting lesser-known books.

His new movie both illustrates the challenge Netflix faces in advancing its model and the reasons it's become so powerful in the first place. "The Irishman" was a work that began its development life as a conversation between Scorsese, De Niro, producers and Paramount 12 years ago. But the Viacom-owned studio began balking at the budget, which involved more than 115 locations and an expensive "de-aging" technology designed to make stars look younger.

L-R: Director Martin Scorsese and
L-R: Director Martin Scorsese and "The Irishman" starts Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. Photo / Netflix

Eventually anticipated costs sailed into the $150 million range. That put it within reach only of Silicon Valley disruptors looking to build a brand and subscriber base and who didn't operate with the business model of traditional studies that every film must break even.

"We just couldn't get the backing for years," Scorsese told reporters after the screening. "And ultimately it was Ted Sarandos and everyone at Netflix," he said, referring to Netflix's chief content officer. "They said 'go for it.'"

Each side is compromising a little when it comes to distribution - Scorsese is allowing it to go streaming a month into its release, and Netflix has agreed to that four weeks.

But the movie's release is hampered by the fact that the three biggest theater chains in the U.S., AMC, Regal and Cinemark, won't play it because the movie does not follow a traditional three-month window of theatrical exclusivity.

The chains are taking a traditional - and as of now, unified - stance as they seek to force Netflix's hand. Netflix, they believe, wants Hollywood's biggest prize, which can be difficult without a traditional release. The firm has yet to win a best picture Oscar.

But analysts say Netflix has shrewdly put theaters in a no-win situation with "Irishman" - the chains must either surrender or end up hurting themselves.

"The problem for the theaters is that if they don't carry the Netflix big budget movie slate they are effectively pushing consumers to increasingly expect to get first run big budget content in their homes or on their personal devices," said Jeff Wlodarczak, the founder of Pivotal Research Group who personally tracks entertainment subscription services.

Scorsese's experience with Netflix will also help Netflix cement talent relationships in a way that is invaluable - or risky.

"If you win over Scorsese, you'll win over a lot of people," said one Hollywood agent who asked for anonymity so as not to jeopardize relationships. "Of course the reverse is true too." A release that fails to gain traction or otherwise troubles Scorsese, the agent said, could make other filmmakers in his class reluctant to bring the company their highest-profile material.

Scorsese says he's still grappling with the reality of his work being consumed largely on home devices.

One wrinkle to this is that people will be able to pause or shut off his film in a way they can't in theaters. That could be a godsend for those who wish to digest a 3-plus hour movie in smaller chunks, but also a problem for Netflix. Social-media traffic suggested that audiences turned off some earlier movies, including the recent Adam Sandler "Murder Mystery," and didn't turn it back on.

And there is no data on how many people watched "Roma" - Netflix's major awards contender last year and an appetizer of sorts for "Irishman's" main event - in its entirety on the service.

"It's an interesting hybrid - how do you balance what a film is and what is viewed at home," Scorsese said, acknowledging he was puzzling it out.

Then again, he said any conflict he felt about how a massively budgeted dramatic feature would be watched was subsumed under a larger reality: Netflix was the only company willing to pay for it.

"We're in an extraordinary time of change," he said. "But what it comes down to is I felt the picture had to be made."