At the end of March, a long list of movies came off of Netflix streaming. Among them was yet another film that Netflix has long recommended to me, Kill the Irishman. This was a 2011 film that flew completely under my radar at the time it came out. The whimsical title along with the marketing shot (Christopher Walken mugging for the camera) got it into my head that this was a Tarantino-style violent, black comedy. This perception was way off.
Kill the Irishman is a true-crime drama set in Cleveland in the 1960s and 70s. It portrays the “career” of Danny Greene, an Ohioan of Irish descent who rose through the Longshoreman’s Union to become a figure in the city’s organized crime underworld. By the mid-70s, Greene was a key figure in a mafia war that plagued the city and whose violence rose to national attention.
The movie is a decent shot at the genre, although its saving grace is probably that it is historical. I’ve read the criticisms that it is too much like Goodfellas. It’s an accusation that may come from the lack of a “good guy” anywhere in the story. Like Henry Hill, Danny Greene has few redeeming qualities beyond a testy sort-of charisma. He is a thief and a murderer, as are all his friends and his enemies alike. Greene’s greatest contrast with Hill seemed to be his going out in a blaze of glory, rather than settling into a life of witness protection. It may be this final move that says much about his life. As to the assertion that Kill the Irishman is simply an attempt to remake Goodfellas, I wouldn’t go that far. If I hadn’t read that elsewhere, I wouldn’t have come to such a conclusion on my own. In fact, I’d go so far a to say that Kill the Irishman is less derivative than The Irishman or Casino.
The weakness in the story is the haphazard nature with which it jumps through the years. One can understand “the early years” being a bit rushed. Danny Greene’s slow rise through the union ranks is only interesting as a set up for the mid-1970s gang war that both opens and closes the film. However, even at the film’s climax, Greene’s criminal activities are largely glossed over. Was the mafia really so angry with him because he had an unpleasant personality? Or was this more about dollars and cents. The film shows Greene seemingly minding his own business as the hitmen chase him down. I suspect the reality put him in a much more active role.
Val Kilmer’s bloated portrayal aside, the acting is all decent – albeit with all of the famous actors playing the same characters that we’ve seen them play through the years. The film is generally well made and reasonably entertaining. If it weren’t for the somewhat fresh take (i.e. not New York City) and the historical basis, I probably would have been less than thrilled. As it was, I was glad that Neflix finally motivated me to give this one a watch.