A true crime action pic, Kill the Irishman follows the life of “Celtic Warrior” (aka Irish mobster) Danny Greene as he rises to power in the ‘70s and takes on the Italian mafia. Though the production values are low, the movie is an explosion-filled gangster tale with all the violence and fat, pasta-eating Mafiosi you could hope for (if you like that sort of thing). Anchor Bay’s Kill the Irishman hits the streets on June 14th on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Kill the Irishman boasts of a great ensemble cast, including Punisher: War Zone’s Ray Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken. The film also throws in so many tried and true mobster clichés that it’s sure to entertain fans of the genre. However, even Walken, D’Onofrio and Stevenson couldn’t elevate the so-so script, boring dialogue, and “cheap“ movie feel. Under the direction of screenwriter/director Jonathan Hensleigh, the film wisely relied on plenty of explosions and violence, and some effective faux-vintage news reels and TV footage to add an authenticity to the biopic and period elements.
Police Detective Joe Manditski (Kilmer) starts off the film with some voice-over narration, telling a short history of Irish-American Danny Greene (Stevenson) and his tough childhood on the streets of Cleveland. Audiences watch a young Danny being bullied and outnumbered by schoolmates, but never backing down. Then we see Danny all grown up and joining the union and working on the docks. Naturally, corruption and organized crime had a strong presence in the unions and around the docks of Cleveland in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and as Danny tries to fight for the rights of his fellow dockworkers he sees the opportunity to make a name for himself.
Danny Greene quickly rises as a force to be reckoned with as he deals with the local mafia bosses and then becomes an enforcer. He has a knack for crime, and his tough tenacity earns him a fearsome reputation. He goes into business with local loan shark Shondor Birns (Walken) and is double crossed, then forms an alliance with Italian gangster John Nardi (D’Onofrio). With Nardi’s help, he and his men go up against the Italian mafia in Cleveland in an all-out turf war. Dozens of car explosions thin the mobster ranks, as Danny Greene escapes multiple assassination attempts and kills off his competition and his enemies.
Based on Rick Porello’s book “To Kill the Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia,” the film has taken some literary license with actual events but has stayed true to the idea of Greene’s folk-hero popularity and survival instinct. Greene’s actions and eventual death are accredited with leading to the collapse of the Italian mafia syndicate in the U.S. That being said, I find the movie’s attempt to paint Greene as a hero a very hard sell. One or two scenes of him saving an old woman from an explosion (which he planned) or giving someone a chance to change before he kills them, is hardly enough to make him into a good guy.
Hensleigh wrote and directed the 2004 The Punisher, and though he is responsible for writing some notable screenplays including The Saint and Jumanji, this is only his third feature length directorial project. The screenplay lacked the charisma to really make Danny Greene’s story interesting. The dialogue was pedantic and boring, and the relationship elements lacked any kind of depth. Character development was also slight, and though the film is a biopic I didn’t feel like I understood Greene or his motives from what I was given, and I certainly didn’t develop any sympathy for his character.
Hensleigh did a competent job directing, relying on violent action to make up for what was lacking in the story and script. The period elements were effective, as plenty of bald, open shots and natural lighting lent an aged feel to the visuals. The ‘70s atmosphere elements didn’t suffer from the limited budget as the use of a few vintage cars placed along the gritty city streets and some handlebar moustaches and vinyl jackets gave plenty of flavor without high cost. Some great cut-in scenes of fabricated old TV news clips, appropriately aged with graininess and spots, added to the feel of authenticity and acted as a reminder that the events in the film were based on actual events. I did detect a touch of CGI in some of the explosion scenes, which was noticeable and detracting.
Stevenson’s natural masculinity fit the role of the invincible Celtic warrior Danny Greene nicely. It’s a testament to his talent that, despite his characteristic oafishness, he could make Greene both strong and somewhat intelligent (but far from attractive). D’Onofrio gave the role of John Nardi a laid-back ease at odds with his character’s calling. I thought his take on Nardi fun, despite not having much to work with by way of dialogue.
Walken at this point is so iconic that it’s fun to watch him doing any role, even a small one, but he very rarely astounds with actual acting feats. His character portrayal felt like a mish-mash of roles he’s played before, with nothing new to recommend it. As for Kilmer…ouch. His character had about five lines of dialogue, though he got some time in as narrator. Mostly he just sat, looking bloated and old, glaring out from different venues. His stiff performance as he barked threats or orders was almost embarrassing. Fionnula Flanagan played a great crotchety old neighbor, with Keith Ritson and Paul Sorvino also standing out from the crowd with their portrayals of tough mobsters.
The Blu-Ray visuals weren‘t astounding. Though there was plenty of crispness to the picture, the naturalistic lighting of the film gave it a muted, aged look that wasn’t done any favors in high def. It added to the “cheap” look of the film. I didn’t see any glaring flaws in the transfer, just a raw ugliness inherent in the filming style.
Audio also underwhelmed. The soundtrack becomes heavy-handed toward the end of the film, with a swelling Irish ballad overplaying the finale. The volume of the music seemed out of balance with the dialogue going on under it, and tended to drown everything else out. There were a few birds chirping, but ambient sound effects were minimal. Kilmer’s narration came across loud and clear, and when not drowned out by Irish ditties the dialogue was generally audible.
As far as extras, the Blu-Ray is light. It only offers the theatrical trailer and a documentary called Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman. This is the only extra of any worth, and the hour-long documentary is actually quite interesting. It goes though Danny Greene’s life, giving a history of his childhood and early adulthood, then his criminal career. Much like the fake TV news clips played during the film, the documentary features actual news and TV footage of Danny Greene or reported events directly related. It has plenty of interviews and commentaries from journalists and law enforcement agents involved in Danny Greene’s case, as well as interviews with Danny’s ex-wife and daughter, and some actual mafia members who were there for Greene’s war.
If you’re a fan of mobster movies, or biopics, Kill the Irishman will probably be an enjoyable watch and the Blu-Ray is worth a rent. But for those not particularly interested in these niche films, this movie’s general lack of depth and finesse make it one to avoid.
Uninspired dialogue and a lack of character development make for a rather boring watch.