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Kill the Irishman
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Screenplay: Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters (based on the book To Kill the Irishman by Rick Porrello)
Stars: Ray Stevenson (Danny Greene), Vincent D’Onofrio (John Nardi), Val Kilmer (Joe Manditski), Christopher Walken (Shondor Birns), Linda Cardellini (Joan Madigan), Tony Darrow (Mikey Mendarolo), Robert Davi (Ray Ferritto), Fionnula Flanagan (Grace O’Keefe), Bob Gunton (Jerry Merke), Jason Butler Harner (Art Sneperger), Vinnie Jones (Keith Ritson), Tony Lo Bianco (Jack Licavoli), Laura Ramsey (Ellie O’Hara), Steven R. Schirripa (Mike Frato), Paul Sorvino (Tony Salerno), Marcus Thomas (William “Billy” McComber)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2011
Country: U.S.
Kill the Irishman Blu-Ray
Kill the Irishman In Kill the Irishman, Ray Stevenson plays Danny Greene, a real-life Irish-American mobster who turned the world of organized crime upside down in the 1970s by waging war against the well-established Italian mafia in Cleveland. Greene was a larger-than-life persona, a hulking, red-headed charmer who was bold, well-read, and brutally violent when he needed to be (he was obsessed with Irish history, and he believed himself to be a direct descendant of Celtic warriors). Like all great antiheroes, there is no simple way to describe the man, and he incited deeply divisive responses: his enemies loathes him, the police were confounded by him, and the residents of his neighborhood called him the “Robin Hood of Collinwood.” Stevenson, who was born in northern Ireland and is best known in the U.S. for his role on the cable series Rome (2005-2007), embodies Greene with the kind of swagger and raw intelligence that makes the character work; we want to see this shaggy-headed thug buck the system, even if his goal is simply to reinvent it for himself.

The story, adapted by director Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters from the nonfiction book To Kill the Irishman by former Cleveland police detective Rick Porrello, follows the traditional rise-and-fall arc of the classic gangster genre. The action is narrated by Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer), who knew Danny as a rough-and-tumble kid getting beaten up by anti-Irish bullies. Joe grows up to be a police officer and maintains a tenuous friendship with Danny his whole life, even though he is well aware of his criminal activities and doesn’t think twice about arresting him when the evidence is there. Danny, on the other hand, fearlessly works his way up the organized crime ladder, first by taking over the local union from a corrupt boss and then by working for the Italian mafia, who treat him as little more than a hired thug. He strikes up a friendship with John Nardia (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Mafioso who recognizes Danny’s potential, and he also gets involved with Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken), a Jewish racketeer who lets Danny work for him as an enforcer but ultimately winds up in conflict with him after a dispute regarding $70,000 of borrowed money.

Set against the backdrop of Midwestern industrial decay, Kill the Irishman has a gritty sense of fortitude that is fitting for its protagonist. It’s a film of red-brick buildings, asphalt, and big, oversized American cars, many of which explode at some point or another, giving the film a recurring motif of sudden, fiery violence. In one summer alone, more than 35 bombs, mostly in cars, went off in Cleveland, resulting in the city being dubbed “Bomb Town, U.S.A.” by the local newspaper. Some of those bombs were intended to kill Greene, who became notorious for his seeming invincibility against assassination, whether by gun or knife or explosive. On first glance, some of the incidents in the film feel slightly exaggerated, such as when a bomb goes off in Greene’s house and he literally rides the second floor down to the ground as it collapses, but a quick check of the facts shows that the film is remarkably true to the historical account. Hensleigh and Walters play with the chronology a bit, omit some events (such as Danny’s military service), and create some composite characters, but overall Kill the Irishman sticks close to the record, if only because the true stories are so fascinating that they don’t need much elaboration.

Hensleigh, who began his career as a screenwriter on films like Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) and Armageddon (1998) before making his directorial debut with the ill-fated comic book adaptation The Punisher (2004), has clearly internalized the best mafioso movies, and at different points Kill the Irishman evokes their greatest hits, whether it be the dark, spaghetti-laced meetings associated with The Godfather (1972) or the hard-edged punctuation of violence with pop music favored by Martin Scorsese in GoodFellas (1990), Casino (1995), and The Departed (2006). This is both the film’s strength and its weakness: Hensleigh wields the techniques with a sure hand and uses them to construct a compelling, engaging narrative, but at the same time seasoned viewers (who are the ones most likely to seek out this film) will constantly feel a nagging sense of familiarity. Hensleigh is competent enough to make the film work, but not to transcend the better films he constantly evokes.

Kill the Irishman Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.78:1
Audio English Dolby True HD 5.1 surround
Subtitles English, Spanish
  • Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman documentary
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • DistributorAnchor Bay Entertainment
    Release DateJune 14, 2011

    The 1080p high-definition transfer of Kill the Irishman looks very good. At times, in fact, it looks a little too good, as the sharpness and detail betray some of the film’s less convincing CGI effects, especially an opening car bomb blast. Throughout the film the image is sharp and clear, with excellent color and strong detail that brings out the grit of the film’s locations (which are actually in Detroit standing in for Cleveland). There isn’t much in the way of film grain in the image, which makes it look a bit too slick at times, but otherwise there are few complaints. The Dolby True HD 5.1 surround soundtrack packs plenty of punch, both in terms of the numerous explosions throughout the film and also its wide range of ’70s-era rock music, which punctuates the action frequently. Dialogue can be just a tad muffled at times, but much of that has to do with the manner in which the characters are speaking, rather than the mix.
    In addition to the original theatrical trailer, the Blu-Ray includes the fascinating hour-long documentary Danny Greene: The Ride and Fall of the Irishman, which chronicles Greene’s life and death via vintage news footage (some of which also appears in the film), photographs (including grisly images of various mob hits), and new interviews with a wide range of people: To Kill the Irishman author Rick Porrello; members of Green’s family, including his ex-wife and one of his daughters; his friends, including a former Cleveland Police captain; and even some of his enemies. The documentary helpfully fills in some of the gaps not covered in the film, but more than anything helped me appreciate how closely the film had stuck to a lot of the events in Greene’s life.

    Overall Rating: (3)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Anchor Bay Entertainment

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