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Published: Friday, 4/1/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

'Kill the Irishman' ... and the cliches

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ray Stevenson portrays true life Cleveland gangster Danny Greene. Ray Stevenson portrays true life Cleveland gangster Danny Greene.
ANCHOR BAY FILMS Enlarge
In 1976, 21 bombs exploded in the city of Cleveland, killing a large contingent of its underworld crime figures.

Many of the bombings (a total of 37 throughout all of Cuyahoga County) reportedly came at the behest of Danny Greene, an up-and-coming gangster known equally for his charisma, good manners, and utter ruthlessness.

On the surface, the story of Cleveland's mean streets has all the makings of a can't-miss blockbuster: It's true, it explores the cinematically irresistible world of violent crime, it features an intriguingly conflicted central character, and it has more explosions than a Transformers movie.

Kill the Irishman, the story of Greene's rise and fall and rise and fall, initially resembles such classic gangster films as The Godfather and the less-classic Casino in its portrayal of hard-driven men unencumbered by morals. Eventually it comes to resemble The Godfather and Casino a little too much, but that's OK, more or less, because they are still pretty good movies.

Kill the Irishman is one of those rare pictures in which the acting is better than the script. This is a high-powered cast, particularly in the supporting roles, with Vincent D'Onofrio as a high-ranking mobster, Christopher Walken in an all-too-brief role as a crook once deemed Cleveland's Public Enemy No. 1, Val Kilmer as a detective who doesn't seem to have anything to do with the plot, Paul Sorvino as notorious crime lord "Fat Tony" Solerno, and Fionnula Flanagan as a cliche.

As Greene, the lesser known Ray Stevenson is big and tough, yet he has his undeniable charms. He has no trouble convincing us that he would rather use words than fists, and fists rather than guns. Clearly, he is a man accustomed to getting his way.

KILL THE IRISHMAN

Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh. An Anchor Bay Films release, opening Friday at Rave Franklin Park and Levis Commons. Rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content and nudity. Running time: 106 minutes

Critic's rating: ***

Danny Greene .......... Ray Stevenson

John Nardi ........... Vincent D'Onofrio

Joe Manditski ......... Val Kilmer

***** Outstanding; **** Very Good; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor.

But Stevenson is let down at times by the co-writer and director, Jonathan Hensleigh, who tends to be repetitive (explosion, fight, confrontation with mobsters; explosion, fight, confrontation with mobsters). And what is supposed to be the movie's emotional highlight, the last encounter between the characters played by Stevenson and D'Onofrio, yields to trite bromides and overworked platitudes.

Up until now, Hensleigh's career has been robustly unimpressive, including screenwriting credits for Next, Jumanji, The Punisher, and others. In fact, the amiably forgettable Kill the Irishman stands as his most accomplished film yet. But it is also possibly his most obvious film, quickly becoming formulaic and showing its debt to the works of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

Hensleigh and his crew tend to violate the first law of filmmaking: They tell us what has happened, rather than showing us. Part of that tendency is seen in the narration, which along with being inserted at random is also unnecessary and unhelpful. And when they do show us things, all too often it is in the form of a montage, which in this case looks to be lazy storytelling.

But then the filmmakers go and do something brilliant. Every so often, they mix in actual television news footage of the events they portray. That is when it all hits home. This is real, we think. This really happened.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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