Anchor Bay // 2010 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jake Ware (Retired) // June 30th, 2011
Live by the sword, die by the sword.
The mob movie is such a staple of our culture that filmmakers face an almost impossible task when trying to come up with a fresh angle on the genre. Kill The Irishman is based on a true story that could have made for a very engaging plot, but ended up being a by the numbers tale of a rise and fall of a mob boss.
Kill The Irishman tells the story of an Irish union boss who got into bed with the local mafia contingent in early 1970s Cleveland. Starting out as a salt of the earth working man, Danny Greene, a self styled Celtic warrior, takes over a longshoreman's union through a combination of wits and fists. In order to help a buddy with a gambling problem, he gets into bed with the local mafia boss, and so begins a tempestuous relationship between the practical and profit orientated mafiosos and the idealistic and morally driven, but power hungry Greene.
The first thing that must be said about Kill The Irishman is that those clever people at Anchor Bay did a bit of marketing magic when they designed the cover art for this DVD release. Seeing Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer front and centre on the DVD cover, you would be excused for thinking that perhaps this film featured them as leads. But you would be very wrong. Walken appears in four pretty short scenes, while Kilmer has little more than an extended cameo. Vincent D'Onofrio, the third known face that appears on the cover, fares a little better, but still only fills a supporting part.
Marketing trickery aside, Kill The Irishman is a decent if by the numbers mob flick. Based on the Rick Porrello book, it has at its centre a very interesting story, takes place in one helluva cool era, and Danny Greene is potentially a fascinating central character. And one could expect that the whole enterprise would be an overwhelming success. But the film just doesn't quite achieve such lofty heights. Instead, it plays out with an uncertain tone, tries to cram way too much story into its short running time, and never quite convinces us that Greene is an interesting enough character for us to spend 100 minutes with. It is a tale riddled with clichés, and the fan of mafia flicks will spot many winks at other films, films that the director Jonathan Hensleigh probably admires greatly. For instance, one snitching mafioso underling meets his bloody end in a car boot, at the end of a knife with which he is repeatedly and viciously stabbed. If that image brings to mind Goodfellas, then you are probably too wise to get anything new from this wiseguy film.
As the film is a biopic, it relies 100% on the turn of its lead actor. British actor Ray Stevenson (Thor) does a decent job and is certainly watchable, but I'm not sure he is up to carrying a film. Most of his work here is good, but his lack of range shows him up at times, and his lack of charisma plays against the film's attempts to portray him as a babe magnet for young hotties. It's not all Stevenson's fault. The script requires him to get through some pretty tough dialogue that even the most gifted actors would have a hard time with. As an example, Greene's pick up line for a pretty young thing half his age is "I read this thing about the benefits of an all vegetable diet. What do you think?" Moments later, they're a couple. Hell, maybe things were different in the '70s and girls were genuinely interested in guys who knew their veggies. Still, Stevenson does a reasonable job and I will certainly look out for this actor in the future.
One of the main strengths of Kill The Irishman is its supporting cast. It is a film littered with actors with known faces, almost all of them connected somehow to past films about organized crime. Paul Sorvino reprises his signature role of Paulie from Goodfellas, but with slightly less hair. Several members of television classic The Sopranos make an appearance, and Vinnie Jones delivers probably the funniest Irish accent that I have come across. Highlights include the appearances of Tony Lo Bianco and Robert Davi, both actors that I would like to see get a lot more work in wide release films. I already mentioned Christopher Walken, who does his best Walken impression, Val Kilmer who is basically wasted here, and Vincent D'Onofrio who puts in a very good performance. Finally, Linda Cardellini (Freaks And Geeks) does a fine turn as Greene's long suffering first wife.
The area in which Kill The Irishman really delivers is in its production design. The film looks fantastic and makes excellent work of capitalizing on its period setting. It is wall to wall packed with classic American cars, leather jackets, big collars, period houses and questionable interior decor. Detroit doubles for 1970s Cleveland and there are some excellent location choices that give the film a very authentic look and feel. The film sports an excellent soundtrack of lesser know '70s rock and funk numbers which give the movie a great rhythm. The film also seems to have been color corrected in post-production to give it a retro quality. This all adds to the charm of the film and is, I would say, the most successful part of Kill The Irishman.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is pretty good. The image is clear and vivid, with rich colors. The 5.1 audio track is also very well achieved and the soundtrack makes good use of the surround system. English for the hearing impaired and Spanish subtitles are supplied.
The extras included on this disc are a trailer and an hour-long documentary about Danny Greene and the mob scene from 1970s Cleveland. Danny Greene: The Rise And Fall Of The Irishman is a well made documentary mixing archive footage, animated recreations and interviews with Greene's ex-wife, daughter and Ed Kovacic, the cop portrayed by Val Kilmer in the film. It covers pretty much everything that is in the film and is an engaging watch. My only complaint is that it comes without subtitles. A mix of trailers for Anchor Bay's forthcoming attractions rounds off the DVD. Sometimes a so-so film is enhanced by a superior DVD package which delivers a very good compilation of extras; Kill The Irishman is not one of those. However, even if this DVD did come loaded with extras, I'm not sure I would have been overjoyed at the prospect of sitting through them all.
The main problem with Kill The Irishman is a weak and clumsy script filled to the brim with exposition and macho dialogue that no one this side of '80s action flicks should be saying. It is cliché ridden to the point where there are clichés of clichés present in this film. The period covered in the film is of some 15 years, so what we are presented with is a virtual highlights reel of the life of a colorful character. There is no time to explore any idea or theme in any kind of depth; we simply roll from one incident to the next. Jonathan Hensleigh's direction keeps the film moving at a fast pace, and shows some very nice touches. However, I was constantly reminded of the work of other directors, most notably Martin Scorsese who is perhaps the definitive modern director working in this genre.
I found Kill The Irishman perfectly reasonable entertainment. It's fast and watchable, and it kept my attention throughout its running time. It looks good and sports a pretty good soundtrack. It is neither an original nor a memorable film though, and I doubt that I will be going back to it time and again in the future. But, as a one off, it worked for me. I would recommend a rental prior to committing to a purchase.
Released on probation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Wikipedia: Danny Greene