KILL THE IRISHMAN Movie Review
KILL THE IRISHMAN is exactly what you’d expect from a film about the Mafia – which is why I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. While I will give most movies a chance no matter what the subject matter is, there’s a certain sense of satisfaction that comes from being won over by something you ordinarily wouldn’t enjoy. Make no mistake, Kill The Irishman is that movie. I went because the cast intrigued me, but left appreciating both the story and the filmmaking.
Director Jonathan Hensleigh’s biopic is based on the book “To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia.” It tells the story of Irish mobster Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson) and chronicles his life from a young child in a tough Cleveland neighborhood, to his rise from dock worker to Union President, to his entanglement with the gang scene. Eventually, Greene becomes an enforcer in the local mob, allying with gangster John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio.) He schemes to successfully overthrow loan shark Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken) in attempts to harness his own power, and in 1976, 36 bombs detonate in Cleveland as the Italian mafia attempt to take down Greene. Their failure to do so causes him to become known throughout history as “the man that the mafia couldn’t kill.”
Part of why Kill The Irishman works so well is because the actors in the film are both convincing and real. It would be easy to make the role of a mafia leader a stereotype…instead, Stevensen is a standout, portraying Danny Greene as a man who has hints of humanity despite the cruelness of his crimes. The actor’s presence is so commanding, in fact, that you forget throughout the course of the film that Stevensen isn’t Greene in real life. D’Onofrio does a fine job playing mobster John Nardi, and it’s nice to see him out of his Law & Order office, stretching his wings to portray a different character entirely. As for Walken, he excels in his role by portraying Birns as someone who despite his rich power can hold his own where it matters. Other notable actors in the film include Robert Davi as Ray, Greene’s friend-turned-enemy and Linda Cardellini as Joan Madigan, Greene’s short-term wife, both of whom use their small amounts of screen time to make lasting impressions.
As a filmmaker, one of the biggest challenges in translating a book to the big screen is deciding how much material to include. Kill The Irishman comes in at a controlled 1 hour and 45 minutes, a perfect length that leaves us feeling we’ve gotten the full story without the plot being too rushed. Additionally, the location shots worked wonders in adding to the film’s authenticity. By finding areas in downtown Detroit that resembled the grittiness of Cleveland, the audience was able to immerse themselves in a story that felt real, rather than one that was cheapened by green screens and Los Angeles backdrops.
The best praise I can give Kill The Irishman? To tell people to give it a chance, even if it’s not the type of film you think you’ll be interested in. You just might be surprised at how much it wins you over.
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