- Rated R
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All photos © Anchor Bay
Reviewed by Matt Saha
n the mid-1970s, Danny Greene, an Irish-American from the wrong side of the tracks, went to war with the Italian mafia in Cleveland. The weapons of choice were handmade bombs, and the city was racked by numerous car and house bombings. For the most part, the city seemed to take this in stride; a far cry from today’s post-9/11 world of heightened surveillance and scrutiny. This film directed by Jonathan Hensleigh tells the tale.
Ray Stevenson (“Rome” and “Punisher: War Zone”) plays the Irishman, and Stevenson, who is British, draws on his mother’s Irish roots to portray empathy and pride in this Celtic warrior. Greene was an orphan, kicked around by foster families and the local Italian kids. The film shows Greene working hard at improving his mind and body. Reading frequently and excelling at sports. He rose through the ranks of the dock workers’ union to become a captain. Greene, however, was never quite the standup guy that his better thoughts would have demanded. He sees the corrupt state of affairs of the union, and realizes he needs some of the dirt to play with the dirty. He befriends an unorthodox wise guy, John Nardi (ably portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio). D’Onofrio, as always, knows how to play the small and nuanced gesture for all its theatrical payoff.
The Feds take notice of this burgeoning friendship between Greene and Nardi, and soon Greene, who at this stage has a family to support, is doing time with no prospects. After his release from jail, he drifts further into Mob life. He begins work as an enforcer for local Mobbed up loan shark Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken). Walken has fun playing the role, but nothing new here in this stock repertory of bad guys with a wink and a smile. Val Kilmer is Joe Manditski, a local cop on to Greene, and who knew Greene growing up on the playing fields. His relationship with Greene is complex; adversarial, but mixed with a begrudging admiration.
Debts and loans go awry and soon Greene is at war with the Mob. Nardi, who sees virtue in Greene’s way, joins him in this war. The Cleveland Mob in disarray needs help from the Big Boys in New York and LA to deal with this troublemaking Irishman – hence the film’s title. Paul Sorvino, Tony Lo Bianco and Robert Davi round out the cast of character actors who play these mobsters. In an epilogue to the film, the filmmakers assert that Greene’s war lead to the fall of the Mob nationwide, although this seems a bit overstated and revisionist.
The real Danny Greene by way of old television footage was a large, soft spoken man – tough but reflective. Stevenson is a good actor, but not quite a believable physical match for Greene. He wears a wig of frizzy red hair, which seems an awkward fit. Stevenson is likeable and good in the action and fight sequences, but there is a softness in the Greene character not fully rendered here.
The film successfully evokes a mid 70’s inner city look and feel, and builds dramatic tension, but from the title on down we know the ending that is coming. The back and forth banter, insults, and battles between the Italians and Greene and his Irish cohorts is entertaining and at times downright funny, although not for the P.C. inclined. They are also derivative of other exchanges especially from films like “True Romance.” And how many scenes of sit-downs with Italian mobsters over mounds of pasta and gravy do we need before this genre is made fresh again? Didn’t the real-life mobsters ever have straight up sit-downs or meetings over cocktails? Overall, “Kill the Irishman” is a good, but not great addition to the gangster picture pantheon.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
There’s only one extra to be found on the Blu-ray release – the 60-minute documentary “Danny Green: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman” – and although it covers a lot of the same ground as the film, it’s a nice companion piece that will appeal to history buffs.