The biographical dramatization "Kill The Irishman" is one of those under the radar films that, I believe, people will discover and embrace through the DVD market. Certainly not a perfect film--the movie does boast, however, a raw grittiness, larger than life performances, and an intriguing and spectacular true story begging for a big screen treatment. And yet, the theatrical release was all but non-existent. The film chronicles a mob war that escalated in Cleveland during the mid-seventies. At the heart of the action is Danny Greene, played with vigor by Ray Stevenson, an Irish-American thug who becomes entrenched in the shenanigans of the Italian mafia. With bluster and bravado, Greene stood his ground as an individual and even came to be championed by ordinary citizens for his more philanthropic endeavors. By taking on the mob, very visibly and very vocally, Greene achieved a notoriety that is hard to ignore and sparked a murderous summer in 1976 that resulted in 36 Cleveland area bombings.
The film introduces Greene as a physical laborer who, through righteousness and intimidation, ascends to the position of a local Union leader. Taken down and imprisoned for corruption, however, brings the high life to an end--and he and his family are forced to build a new existence upon his release. Through local connections (Vincent D'Onofrio and Christopher Walken), Greene soon finds himself taking on more responsibility with the mafia. However, trying to establish his independence and tiring of their imposed leadership, Greene eventually raises their ire with his rebellious and confrontational ways. This leads to all out war! The film does an excellent job highlighting the political and power connections that start to unravel. The resultant action is well done and harrowing--it is recreated with terrific specificity and attention to detail. Fans of action and mob films will not be disappointed by the film's brutality. The incorporation of real life news footage enhances the human drama as well.
Central to the success of the film is Ray Stevenson (who I knew principally from HBO's Rome). Stevenson gives a dynamic and fearless performance, strong but never alienating. You can see why Greene appealed to people, but Stevenson never relinquishes his harder edge. I loved him and, for me, he made the movie! Bigger names (including Val Kilmer as a cop who inexplicably narrates this piece) are fine, but the picture belongs to Stevenson! As a biography, however, the film makes some big jumps that would have defined its characters better. The story with Greene's wife and family is fairly superficial, his normal friends turn into weapon carrying thugs with zero transition, and most egregiously--the film fails to generate any time for the most intriguing aspect of Greene's tale. Greene became a popular cult figure with a Robin Hood mythology. The movie spends all of about ten seconds explaining this fascinating development! Still, this is a heck of a ride--all the more riveting because of its basis in real life. Genre fans should appreciate the movie--but don't let the title scare you, this should also have more universal appeal! KGHarris, 5/11.