By: Oberst von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
Danny Greene was one of Cleveland’s strangest public figures in the 1970’s. He was a man of many contradictions; a high school dropout, yet an avid intellectual, a rising star in the criminal underworld and a family man, a health conscious athlete, and yet he appeared on television and gave multiple interviews daring his enemies to kill him.
Just another Tuesday for the International Conference of Renaissance Men
There is a definite appeal to American gangster films, as they represent an alternate history of this country as seen through the eyes of those who would rather not be seen. The rebels, the thieves and misanthropes who populate these stories are rarely depicted as being good people. Their stories are instead told, warts and all, with the hope that their positive traits will endear you to them, while their faults are revealed. You may not sympathize with them, but it is hard not to empathize. After all, these are characters that raise families, go to work, and live very much like the rest of us; they simply chose a path that put them on the wrong side of the rules of society.
This feeling is ever-present in Kill the Irishman, a portrait of the dark side of our history. Ray Stevenson is fascinating to watch as Danny Greene, who sees himself a Celtic warrior fighting for his life in a world that doesn’t follow a warrior’s code. It is also notable as the first major film to profile Mob activity within Cleveland, Ohio. The tragedy is that this film ultimately feels like a lost opportunity… kind of like Cleveland.
Director Jonathan Hensleigh clearly wanted this film to capture the atmosphere and feel of Mean Street, or Goodfellas. Unfortunately the stylized editing and clever camera techniques that worked so well under Martin Scorsese’s direction feel awkward and soulless here. This is partially due to a lack of cohesiveness in the storyline, which makes the film feel like a compilation of scenes rather than a whole work. Some of these scenes work well, heightening tensions and building characters organically, while others exist simply to explain a plot point. Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken’s roles in particular are wasted…
For a film with such a solid cast of actors, there are very few distinctive performances.Christopher Walken, so often the best name in the room, seems utterly lost. It is almost as if the director threw a costume on him and had him read cue cards while filming. His role of “Shondor” Birns, a Jewish-American gangster who befriends Danny and gives him his start in the business, was not a huge role, with maybe 10 minutes of total screen time. But anyone whose seen Pulp Fiction knows that Walken doesn’t have to be in a movie long to make a lasting impression. Walken played a more complex character in Joe Dirt.
Val Kilmer doesn’t belong in the movie at all
As Police Detective Joe Manditski, he serves as the emotionless narrator. The narration lends nothing to the film except to bore us with statistics and tell us things we already know, because we’ve just seen it happen. The scenes he has with Ray Stevenson are supposed to show the strange truce that criminals have with Police off-hours, but Kilmer never strides for the sort of energy necessary to be memorable.
If I want to see an actor replace himself with a cardboard box, I’ll watch Keanu Reeves in Speed, because at least Dennis Hopper overacts enough to compensate for the both of them. This serves to remind you of the better Mob movies out there.
Recommended for genre fans, but BYOB
Down an Irish Car Bomb every time one goes off (this is enough for a whole game).