Somewhere in my family’s history, I have a couple of odd branches. One of them leads to a former Pope (17th century I believe) and the other is even more curious, the mob. Specifically, it leads to the most popular gangster of them, Al Capone. It is pretty far down the branch, but interesting nevertheless. This leads us to our movie review for today: Kill the Irishman which deals with the real life story of Danny Greene, a man who escaped death countless times and took down the mob.
The period in time is Cleveland, Ohio circa 1975. Danny Greene (played by Ray Stevenson) is driving along and listening to his 8-track player. All of the sudden, his player starts to fizzle and then sparks fly. Danny realizes that the car is about to explode and gets out. He narrowly escapes death. He shouts, “It will take more than a few firecrackers to kill me.” Indeed it would.
Flashback time. Danny always had trouble with school and never really finished school. However, that did not mean that he wasn’t smart as he was often found with a book in hand. After high school, he started work in the container yard down by the docks for the Long Shoreman’s Union. Greene is well respected by his peers and becomes their unofficial spokesperson when the unions try to push them in 110 degree heat. Eventually push comes to shove and the union tries to muscle him out of the container yard for good.
But Danny doesn’t like being pushed. Soon, he pushes back and as a result of his actions, he finds himself president of the Long Shoreman’s Union. Around this time, he stands up for his friend, Art (played by Jason Butler Harner) who has a gambling problem and owes money to mob member, John Nardi (played by Vincent D’Onofrio). Danny ends up doing a job for Nardi but in the process gains a friend for life.
With this job and new found friendship into the mob, Danny’s life is as good as he could ask for. He gets married, moves into a big house, even makes nice with a old childhood friend, Joe Manditski (played by Val Kilmer) who is now a cop for the Cleveland PD. However, due to Danny’s shady dealings with the mob and labor racketeering, he is outed by the local paper for corruption. This leads to his eventual arrest.
However, the Feds are willing to cut a deal. In exchange for Danny to be set free, he has to become an informant. Once a month, he has to talk to the Feds about the mob, in exchange they will look the other way on these crimes (and crimes to come). Danny goes back to the good life. John Nardi is there to help out and sets him up with a loan shark named Shondor Birns (played by Christopher Walken) for some protection work.
Nardi also introduces Danny to Jack Licavoli (played by Tony Lo Bianco), head of the Cleveland mob. But fate starts to play an ugly card, as Greene asks for a loan from Birns and due to circumstances beyond his control can not pay it back. A bounty goes out on his head for twenty five thousand dollars. Assassination attempts are coming from every corner of Cleveland, but Greene keeps fighting back. Can anybody kill the Irishman?
Since this movie is based on the real life of Danny Greene, one has to understand that some embellishment is going to take place. First, and foremost whether one reads about his life or simply goes by the movie alone, Danny is a dark shade of gray. The man might possess a good heart towards people of his own, but did some pretty bad things. He is the embodiment of most mob members, but ironically enough his death ultimately laid a harsh blow to the mob, one that the Cleveland mob has never recovered from.
Ray Stevenson does a fine job here. I had enjoyed him in the latest Punisher movie and he fully got into character here. Heck, if you checked out a few tv interviews from the 70’s, you might swear he is the same guy. Also, Vincent D’Onofrio turned a fine hand as Nardi, but here is where the problems start. There was simply very little space for him to really get into the character.
Which is also the same issue with Val Kilmer’s character. Sure, they are given lines to act, but there is no depth to them. We won’t even discuss Walken’s part in the movie since it was a glorified cameo. Not to mention, there are about half a dozen other famous mafia actors such as Steve Schirripa or Paul Sorvino who are given basically nothing to do except the fact that they were part of another mob movie.
Also, certain plot elements from Greene’s life were mentioned once and quickly forgotten. The best example is that he was a Federal informant. He made contact once a month to the Feds and gave them valuable information. It gets mentioned when he is offered a deal but then for the rest of the movie, he is out doing these misdeeds like nothing happened. I understand the real information is probably locked away in some secret Federal place, but this is a movie. It would have made for a better story.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen at 1080p resolution. This film does feel like it is carved out of the 1970’s. From the cars to clothes to the style of the houses, it really has that feel. It also helps that they even use television footage from that era. Color is good here, it fits in with the era it is trying to depict. The blu-ray image holds up pretty well, but it is not reference quality or anything.
The audio is presented in 5.1 English TruHD (Spanish Mono mix also included). For a movie with a lot of explosions (due to car bombs mostly), it is not that impressive. Any sort of pyro as it were sounds canned at best. A house blowing up should be impressive. Dialog is clear thankfully and the audio is serviceable, just not what I was hoping for. English SDH and Spanish Subtitles are also included.
- Automatic Trailers: Tekken, Meet Monica Velour, The Big Bang , and Beautiful Boy
- Trailer 2:09: Standard trailer, nothing special here. Sell that Walken cameo!
- Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman 1:00:27: At about an hour long, this documentary is about the best thing we could ask for if we were looking for historical extras. The most interesting thing about this piece is the actual footage from the time (including dead body pieces) and family members like his ex-wife and children. Even the officer that Val Kilmer’s character is based on is there to talk about the life of Danny Greene. Great stuff if the movie interests you at all from a history of the mob perspective.
What happens when you put together a bunch of not-quite A list actors with a bunch of actors who have starred in so many mob movies that people who call them “whack” wish they hadn’t? You get the movie Kill the Irishman. Ray Stevenson turns in a wonderful performance as Danny Greene, but unfortunately the praise starts and ends there. Vincent D’Onofrio also does a fine job but ultimately writing and screen time does him in as well as the likes of Val Kilmer, Steve Schirripa, and Vinnie Jones.
The disc is pretty decent. Video and audio are slightly above average for a hidef presentation. The documentary also included on this disc was actually the highlight of my viewing experience and arguably deserves its own review. It is hard to recommend this one. I think a lot of people will like it and watch it (hence my score) but when you really analyze it, it is an opportunity lost. In the end, it will simply be another average mob movie and do almost nothing to make us think of it any other way.