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Kill the Irishman
Ray Stevenson stars in Anchor Bay Films’ Kill the Irishman. Photo Credit: Kim Simms, Property of Anchor Bay Films

Movie Review: Kill The Irishman

 

Ray Stevenson, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, and Vincent D’Onofrio star in “Kill The Irishman.” Jeanne Powell has her review.

Kill The Irishman

Christopher Walken and Ray Stevenson in Anchor Bay Films’ Kill the Irishman. Photo Credit: Kim Simms, Property of Anchor Bay Films

KILL THE IRISHMAN
ANCHOR BAY FILMS

Official Film Website: www.killtheirishman.com

CAST: Ray Stevenson, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio

Studio Synopsis:
Over the summer of 1976, thirty-six bombs detonate in the heart of Cleveland while a turf war raged between Irish mobster Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson) and the Italian mafia. Based on a true story, Kill the Irishman chronicles Greene’s heroic rise from a tough Cleveland neighborhood to become an enforcer in the local mob. Turning the tables on loan shark Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken) and allying himself with gangster John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), Greene stops taking orders from the mafia and pursues his own power. Surviving countless assassination attempts from the mob and killing off anyone who went after him in retaliation, Danny Greene’s infamous invincibility and notorious fearlessness eventually led to the collapse of mafia syndicates across the U.S. and also earned him the status of the man the mob couldn’t kill.

Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh and also starring Val Kilmer, Paul Sorvino and Linda Cardellini, Kill the Irishman is inspired by Rick Porrello’s true crime account To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia. Kill the Irishman is a Code Entertainment Production in association with Dundee Productions.

Kill the Irishman

Ray Stevenson stars in Anchor Bay Films’ Kill the Irishman. Photo Credit: Kim Simms, Property of Anchor Bay Films

Jeanne Powell’s Take:
Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh continues to develop as a director with his intriguing new film, “Kill the Irishman,” an exploration of a true crime story which had national ramifications.

When we think of gangsters, we often think of Hollywood depictions, starting with Edward G. Robinson as “Little Caesar” in 1930 and James Cagney as “The Public Enemy” in 1931.  Of course, one-reel mobster films survive from the silent film era as well.  What many of these have in common is a depiction of gangland violence drawn from newspaper headlines, and “Kill the Irishman” is no exception.  Actual news clips lend authenticity, featuring Brian Ross and David Brinkley delivering network news stories in 1976-77. 

To kill the Irishman became the obsession of the Italian mob in 1977, in the heart of the American industrial belt.  This was not a private quarrel but rather a brutal contest of wills between career criminals and a fiercely independent Irish thug — 36 car bombings in the city of Cleveland.  As with many mob wars, the local police were less than capable of stopping the madness.  District police chief Rick Porrello grew up with gangster Danny Greene and lived through these events; his book, To Kill The Irishman, is the basis for Hensleigh’s film.  As portrayed by Val Kilmer, Porrello was a mere bystander with little range of emotion shown as Cleveland erupted in violence.

Hensleigh dips into the lives of his characters without romanticizing their behavior.  Christopher Walken is chilling as the loan shark who appears to offer friendship.  Vincent D’Onofrio, well known as a “Law and Order:  CI ” detective on television, plays John Nardi, the one Italian whom Greene doesn’t hate.  When Nardi decides to throw his support to the Irishman, he commits an incredibly violent act to prove his new loyalty; he and the Irishman embrace in a world where neutrality is not an option.

Ray Stevenson’s Irishman is a man of mystery.  He reads books, quietly and constantly.  Gentle with his wife (Linda Cardellini), Greene does not confide in her, yet does not hesitate to let her see his violence toward others.  His suggestion, “let’s dance,” to men who oppose him is the most ominous invitation they could receive, and usually their last.  There is no sexy music behind the violence; every punch, every gunshot, every stabbing lands vividly in your consciousness. 

The 1970s still was a time of racial segregation in America.  But the chance to make a profit brought racial groups into contact with each other, as always:  An Irish thug borrows money from the Italian mob in New York, using the services of a Jewish loan shark in Cleveland, and the money is sent via a Black courier.

Even in the all-out war between gangland figures, there are rules for the Irishman — no killing of women and children, no drinking or drugs.  His next-door neighbor, well played by Fionnula Flanagan in a brief scene, reminds him they share a heritage, and once their people had stood for something, that there was “something better than being a big shot.”  Flanagan alludes to Greene’s distant warrior heritage before the Roman empire under the Caesars brought an end to all that.  And for a while, Danny Greene tries on the Robin Hood mantle.

Director Jonathan Hensleigh does not try to emulate better known film directors, who are notorious for glamourizing mafiosi in films of the last 30 years.  As played by Ray Stevenson, the Irishman reveals in a couple of scenes the human toll behind the relentless struggle for power in the back streets of Cleveland.  The tactics he and the mobsters use, though, are not so different from those of Wall Street and corporate boardrooms across America, both in the Robber Baron era and in media headlines of the last few years.

Kudos to Patrick Cassidy for the music.  Many thanks to photographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub for making Detroit look like Cleveland for this film; both cities had their moments.  And the cars they drive — those long, beautiful mechanical dreams on wheels, with miles of chrome, made in America — enjoyed seeing them again.

Yeah, OK, two boxes of popcorn for this one.  Go see it.

About Jeanne Powell

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Jeanne Powell is a poet and short story writer, who teaches in a summer program for teens. Her most recent books are "My Own Silence" and "Word Dancing," available online and through booksellers. She also hosts spoken word events in San Francisco, and covers cultural happenings for online media.