“More of the money should have gone into better script-writing and less into the many bomb explosions that is this movie’s only redemptive quality.”
Have you ever heard of the name Danny Greene? If that name doesn’t immediately ring any bells, go ahead and ask yourself if you’ve heard of the hellish Cleveland summer of 1976 when a recorded thirty-six bombs were detonated due to the Italian mafias turf war battle with a single Irish mobster, in which case you will have found your answer. Like his last name would suggest, Greene was a proud Irish catholic, whose fearlessness led to his infamous rise in power from dockworker to Union President to notorious mobster, and what also led him to become the target of countless assassination attempts. Adapted from the Rick Porrello true crime account, “To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia,” the film chronicles the life of the invincible Irishman, Danny Greene.
Opening the film is a sweeping ariel Cleveland cityscape, which cuts to a pleasant-enough looking lumberjack of a man with a handlebar mustache getting into his car and driving down a city street on a pleasant-enough sunny afternoon. A sudden spark from the radio, a lightning fast moment of understanding, and a reflexive jump out of the suddenly-exploding car later, we are thrust into the story. A charred and stumbling Greene shouts so all can hear that it’s gonna take more than a few firecrackers to kill the Irishman.
Cut to years before the marvelous car leap, and we are introduced to Greene as dockworker, an “everyman” respected by all except the unruly Union President, who mercilessly overworks the laborers. Heralded as the voice of the dockworkers, Greene takes the President on and soon enough becomes the head of the Union himself. This leads to the flourishing new life of success of marrying his desirable wife Joan (Linda Cardellini, Brokeback Mountain, Scooby-Doo) moving into a big house, and preparing for the newborns that are on their way. And of course, there’s the new lucrative stream of money coming in too, which we soon find out is in large part due to illegal transactions that lead to a high-profile arrest. The once-perfect life Greene made for himself now destroyed, he finds a new line of work that compliments his natural Irish toughness, acting as the muscle for loan shark Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter).
With each hit, he grows in notoriety, leading criminal circles to fearfully refer to him as, “the Irishman.” His career is also noticed by Detective Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer, The Doors), who makes it his mission to put Greene away, which gets more and more unlikely as Greene soon becomes powerful enough to cut his ties with Birns and align himself with fellow gangster John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket, Men in Black) to establish his own formidable mob. Now a dangerous opponent, Greene becomes the mob’s main target, forcing him to evade numerous attempts on his life including shootings and bombings, which wages an all out turf war between the competing Italian mafia and the fearless Irishman.
Unfortunately, and I mean it really is unfortunate, what the movie delivers is nowhere near as exciting as the subject matter should have made itself. The pacing is aggravatingly slow; where this movie should have been driven by a fuel-injected octane formula racer, it feels more like the person behind the wheel is a slow old lady you’re forced to be stuck behind and wish would speed up. Lazy story development, watered down dialogue, and paint-by-numbers editing weigh the film down tremendously, leading me to believe that if this hadn’t been factually proven to have been adapted from history, it would have been the silliest gangster film ever attempted.
Stevenson as Greene is okay enough at embodying the intimidating character, but most of the time it feels like his lines were recited with the intention of mimicking Gerard Butler-as-Leonidas in “300.” When the director tries to include scenes where we are supposed to see that he’s still a good guy at heart (one scene includes a jovial Greene and his henchmen delivering turkeys to the community, another where he and his elderly neighbor have a heart-to-heart conversation about the evil of his profession) it feels like we are getting tactlessly and relentlessly beaten over the head with a giant dosage of “how we need to feel about this guy.” Again, lazy and cliche-driven dialogue didn’t exactly help him out at all, but Stevenson brings the same “tough-guy with clever wit” mindset into every scene he’s in, which when all assembled together, makes for a very one-dimensional performance.
On the whole, “Kill the Irishman,” loses its grasp of its subject material by filling the movie with uninspiring scenes that feel executed mostly out of obligation to fulfill the script. It is also a shame that story points and characters needed to be eliminated in the process of the adaptation from the book, for what was pulled for the film felt like every other element of the gangster movie that has been seen before and makes you wonder what other great story lines could have saved the film. Perhaps more of the money should have gone into better script-writing and less into the many bomb explosions that is this movie’s only redemptive quality.