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Friday, March 25, 2011
Kill The Irishman
The Evergreen, Indestructible Luck O' The Irish
Ray Stevenson (left) as Danny Greene in Jonathan Hensleigh's crime drama "Kill The Irishman." Anchor Bay
by Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com FOLLOW
Friday, March 25, 2011
In the 1970s Cleveland was a hotbed of Mafia activity - murder, mayhem and more murder - but much of it came from a confident, borderline-cocky man named Danny Greene, an Irishman who told the Italian-American Mob on Lake Erie where they could stick their criminal empire. More than 36 bombs went off in Cleveland during a hot, deadly summer in 1976, we are told by Val Kilmer, who plays a police detective who appears in and narrates the independent crime drama "Kill The Irishman", which expanded to San Francisco and several other cities today.
One of the year's best films, "Kill The Irishman" tells the true story of Mr. Greene, who was, for all intents and purposes, a Robin Hood of Cleveland's then-thriving Italian-American crime syndicates. Robbing and subverting the criminally-endowed to promote a sense of evergreen balance on a bloody turf, Danny Greene learned to wield muscle early as a union man. Jonathan Hensleigh tightly writes and directs this riveting story. Northern Ireland-born Ray Stevenson is excellent as Greene, and if, like me you don't recognize him during the film (he's been in "The Book Of Eli", "The Other Guys", "Punisher: War Zone" and soon in "Thor"), you will marvel at his masterful execution of a sturdy, appealing and unwavering anti-hero.
Danny Greene was hated, feared, admired and respected by the Mob-families who were compelled to go into business with him as they watched a locomotive of sheer bravado hit them head on. Never taking "no" for an answer, Mr. Greene's incredible, if not impossible legend grew as he became a formidable presence, gobbling up sections of long-held Mafia districts in Cleveland, refusing to share the monies he gained through his violent ways. He was a watchdog who had the backs of those who lived in the tightly-knit Irish neighborhoods from whence he came. A man with allegiances to two families, Mr. Greene balanced his kids on one knee and his guns on the other.
Smartly-paced, evocative and absorbing, "Kill The Irishman" manages to be an effortless crowd-pleaser. Mr. Hensleigh never throws too much information at the audience, weaving the film's fine ensemble performances with moments from real-life 1970s news footage (some of it featuring a very young future ABC News investigator Brian Ross.) "Kill The Irishman" is a highly-entertaining crime drama that is smart, addictive and compulsively watchable. What you see is what you get: violence, excellent one-liners, hilarity and a layered sweetness that, strangely enough, is congruent with the brutality Danny Greene exhibited. Mr. Greene is portrayed onscreen by Mr. Stevenson as an endearing wise-ass Terminator, with infinitely better jokes to tell, in between stomping rogues here and making love over there.
Mr. Hensleigh, who has written numerous action films ("Armageddon", "The Punisher", "The Saint") infuses "Kill The Irishman" with the kind of amusing, insult-laden and mocking dialogue evident in his script for the otherwise tepid "Die Hard With A Vengeance." Mr. Hensleigh directs "Kill The Irishman" with a blend of infectious energy, combining styles evoked by Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. Several actors from each of the three named directors' films ("Snatch", "Pulp Fiction", "GoodFellas" respectively) appear here, including the irrepressible Vinnie Jones, a former footballer from Watford, England. Mr. Jones, who has had an illustrious resume of playing the heavy in action films -- some bad films, others worse -- doesn't get much screen time here but is terrific among the greats on display. There's an unquenchable joy I reveled in while watching him and the entire cast of this marvelous film.
The funny, perhaps cartoonish flair of this often playful drama overwhelms its violent content. We are never pulled away from the film by diversionary plots or expedient movie devices. The actual footage we see throughout doesn't distract us or glorify Mr. Greene, but enhances our understanding of him and the unstable climate of Cleveland in the mid-1970s. You watch the events unfold with a mix of excitement and fascination, and you immediately want to watch again. "Kill The Irishman" is that good, and then some.
"Kill The Irishman" is more an unlikely story of confidence and brawn than it is a hard-boiled crime drama. Mr. Hensleigh's effective recipe doesn't seek to go the lazy route and turn off audiences with excessive violence, but the bright enthusiasm the director exhibits makes this one of the most enjoyable crime dramas I've seen in many years.
With: Vincent D'Onofrio, Steven R. Schirripa, Linda Cardellini, Bob Gunton, Fionnula Flanagan, Mike Starr, Vinny Vella, Laura Ramsey, Robert Davi, Sean O'Reilly, Marcus Thomas.
"Kill The Irishman" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. The film's running time is one hour and 46 minutes.
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