My review of the film, "Kill The Irishman," also appears at http://sidewalkstv.com/web.
Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh continues to develop as a director with his intriguing new film, "Kill the Irishman," an exploration of a true crime story which had national ramifications.
When we think of gangsters, we often think of Hollywood images starting with Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar" (1930) or James Cagney in "The Public Enemy" (1931). Of course, one-reel mobster films survive from the silent era as well. What many of these have in common is a depiction of gangland violence drawn from newspaper headlines, and "Kill The Irishman" is no exception. Actual news clips lend authenticity, featuring Brian Ross on camera and David Brinkley in a voiceover delivering network news stories in 1976-1977.
To kill the Irishman became an obsession of the Italian mob families, in the heart of the American industrial belt. This was not a private quarrel but rather a brutal contest of wills between career criminals and a fiercely independent Irish thug, resulting in 36 car bombings in the city of Cleveland. As with many mob wars, the local police were less than capable of stopping the madness. District police chief Rick Porrello grew up with gangster Danny Greene and lived through these events; his book, To Kill The Irishman, is the basis for Hensleigh's film. As portrayed by Val Kilmer, Porrello is a mere bystander, showing little range of emotion as Cleveland erupts in violence.
Hensleigh dips into the lives of his characters without romanticizing their behavior. Christopher Walken is chilling as the loan shark who appears to offer friendship to Danny Greene. Vincent D'Onofrio, well known as a "Law & Order: CI" detective on television, plays John Nardi, the one Italian Greene does not hate. When Nardi decides to throw his support to the Irishman, he commits an incredibly violent act to prove his new loyalty. He and the Irishman embrace in a world where neutrality is not an option.
Ray Stevenson's Irishman is a man of mystery. He reads books, which no one else in his world seems to do. Gentle with his first wife (Linda Cardellini), he does not confide in her, yet allows her to witness his violence toward others. His suggestion, "let's dance," to those who oppose him is the most ominous suggestion they can receive, and usually their last. Hensleigh does not accent the violence with sexy music, as some directors have done. Every punch, every gunshot, every stabbing lands vividly in your consciousness.
The 1970s was a time of racial segregation in America. However, the chance to make a profit brought racial groups into contact with each other, as it always does. An Irish thug borrows money from the Italian mob in New York through the services of a Jewish loan shark in Cleveland, and the money is transported by a Black courier.
Even during all-out war between gangland figures, there are rules the Irishman follows -- no killing of women and children, no drinking or drugs. His next-door neighbor, well played by Fionnula Flanagan in a brief scene, reminds him they share a heritage; once their people had stood for something, that there was "something better than being a big shot." Flanagan alludes to Greene's distant warrior heritage before the Roman Empire under the Caesars brought an end to all that. And for a while, Danny Greene tries on the Robin Hood mantle.
Director Jonathan Hensleigh does not try to emulate better known film directors who are notorious for their glamourizing of mafiosi during the last 30 years. As played by Ray Stevenson, the Irishman reveals in a couple of short scenes the human toll behind the relentless struggle for power and revenge in the streets of Cleveland. The tactics he and the Italian mobsters use, though, are not so different from those of Wall Street and corporate boardrooms, both in the Robber Baron era and in media headlines of the last few years.
Kudos to Patrick Cassidy for the music and how it is utilized. Many thanks to photographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub for making Detroit look like Cleveland for this film; both cities had their moments. And the cars they drive -- those long beautiful dreams on wheels, with miles of chrome, made in America -- enjoyed seeing them again.
Causes Jeanne Powell Supports
Union of Concerned Scientists, VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against War), Doctors Without Borders, Waterkeeper Alliance, PSR (Physicians for Social Responsibility...