Kill the Irishman
Without question, Kill the Irishman deserves to be ranked with The Godfather films as one of the best gangster movies in the history of Hollywood. It is gritty, poignant and completely mesmerizing. It has you in its bawdy and sadistic grip from its clever opening sequences to its expected but thoroughly spellbinding conclusion.
Based on a true story, Kill the Irishman tells the story of the violent gang wars that erupted in Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1970’s. While it is incredible to believe, the bloody summer of 1976 saw over 30 fire bombings as various rival mobs conducted a bloody war for control of the graft flowing from Cleveland’s underworld.
Ray Stevenson is hypnotic as Danny Greene, the Irishman of this extraordinary film’s title. Lacking a formal education, he has elevated himself above his contemporaries by his avid reading. He is charming, ruthless and capable of immense acts of brutality, and in many ways his performance rivals the Oscar nominated one given by Jacki Weaver last year in Animal Kingdom, a role where she played the doting mother hen of her three psychotic sons. While I would never casually predict Oscar nominations, it is hard for me to believe that Mr. Stevenson will not be on everyone’s short list.
In a sense Danny Greene is a grimy Michael Corleone with dirt under his fingernails. Commanding complete loyalty from his closest confederates, not because he demands it, as he has earned it, he is capable of astounding acts of charity while dispatching anyone who stands in the way of his criminal enterprise. He is passionate about his Irish roots, and has nothing but contempt for the “wops” who run the Italian Mafia out of New York.
While Danny Greene occasionally grows weary of his violent lifestyle, he can never stay away from it for long. Central to the movie’s plot is when he attempts to borrow $70,000 through a local Jewish gangster played with devilish malice by the legendary Christopher Walken. When Walken’s courier steals the money, robbing Danny Greene of his dream of opening an Irish bar/restaurant, mayhem ensues when Walken insists that the money must be repaid anyway, or face the fatal consequences.
Stevenson’s Danny Greene is a complex character, but he is nothing if not a man of principal. When he refuses to repay the money because he never received it, he becomes the focus of repeated attempted hits, but this is a very tough Irishman to kill.
Stevenson is also surrounded by a superb array of supporting actors. As noted above, Walken is right at home as a crime boss with the morals of a sewer rat. And as all of you movie lovers know by now, he is also capable of being one very funny sewer rat.
In addition, Vincent D’Onofrio is also superior as a rye, engaging member of the Italian Mafia who eventually befriends Stevenson. And it should be noted that Val Kilmer returns from the acting graveyard as Joe Manditski, a police detective on the trail of Danny Greene who also happens to be a childhood friend. As he displayed long ago in such films as Real Genius (1985); Tombstone (1993); Heat (1995) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). Kilmer is a talented actor, and its nice to see him remember that fact.
Stevenson’s Danny Greene is truly one of the most memorable characters to have graced the silver screen during my lifetime. He knows that there is very little good to be found in him, but it is his honesty about that fact that clearly makes him so appealing. Completely politically in incorrect before that phrase was even invented, he revels in his prejudices. He not only challenges those hellbent on his destruction, but he spits in their face. He’s just a damned Irishman too blasted ornery to do the right thing and die.
So do yourself a favor and get out and see this remarkable film before it ends its likely short run. And that includes all of you who normally don’t have a stomach for violence. Yes, Kill the Irishman may occasionally have scenes that will cause the more gentile viewer to watch through your fingers, but the multiple bombings central to the non-stop mayhem strangely function as the artistic equivalent of some magnificent fireworks display over the 4th of July.