MacGuffin Film Review – Kill the Irishman

Film Review – Kill the Irishman

The makers of Kill the Irishman, which opens in Seattle today, must think you will watch any piece of crap if it is about the mob. They have to believe that the very fact that the film is about a bunch of people trying to make money in an organized, illegal fashion is enough. No need for things like character development that might help you care about those people, dialogue that reaches beyond the cliché and lazy, or any scene or plot point that you haven’t seen before. Unless you are thinking to yourself right now “Damn, if I don’t see a movie this weekend where a snitch gets whacked after an oh-so-brief moment of moral hesitation from a gruff anti-hero, I will literally die,” then please, skip this film. And even if you are thinking that, I suggest you rent any of the hundred or so mob movies that are infinitely better than this one. Go to your local video store and just pick one off the shelf.

If you still care to know something more about the film, here we go. We are told as we begin that it is based on the true story of Danny Greene, played here unbelievably flatly by Ray Stevenson. Greene tried to make it to the top of the underworld of 1970s Cleveland, and had quite a bit of success, despite, from what I can tell, having no useful skills whatsoever except being able to punch people really hard. Oh, he also reads—actual books with words in them. So clearly he’s the king of the sorry, non-reading bunch of losers working with him as longshoremen during the day and heading to the local bar at night. A beautiful barmaid named Joan (Linda Cardellini, who deserves so much better) notices this, and within moments the two are enjoying an intimate moment in Danny’s car. Unfortunately, they’re interrupted by Danny’s friend Art (Jason Butler Harner), who owes a gambling debt and needs Danny’s help to get out of it. So, Danny talks to the gangster John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio) and somehow gets his friend’s debt settled. How, we don’t really know, because the scene cuts away before anything interesting happens. But we can assume it has something to do with the size of Danny’s balls, since he and John become friends and John likes to comment on this throughout the rest of the film.

After this, Danny punches his way to becoming head of the longshoremen’s union. Truly: he just slaps around the guy who’s in charge, and the next thing we know he’s running the place. But, now under the influence of his mobster buddy, Danny goes corrupt. Sadly, we don’t get to see any interesting scheming actually taking place. We do get a couple of montages—this film is big on montages—showing Danny becoming a mucky muck (we know this because he laughs and smokes a cigar with other laughing, cigar-smoking men) and marrying Joan, having kids, etc. Life’s all good—until some pesky reporter tips a detective (Val Kilmer) to something or other, and Danny gets arrested. He proceeds to cut a deal to be an informant, so that he doesn’t have to serve time, and the film proceeds to pretty much forget that ever happened and have him go about his merry, corrupt way, never really checking in with the detective again. Oh, except when they coach Little League together. Yeah.

We see Danny’s various schemes to get back to the top. Along the way he befriends a garbageman played by Steven Schirripa and a restaurateur played by Christopher Walken, who both do what they can with the material they’re given, but also deserve better. We get at least three more montages of varying usefulness, a ridiculous side storyline in which Danny befriends a tough old Irish lady who lives next door, and a new girlfriend for him after Joan leaves him, whose entire personality seems to be that she enjoys organic fruits and vegetables. Given that at no point in the film did I care even a little bit about Danny, I really just wanted these rambling adventures to come to an end.

The last act of the film finally returns to what had actually been a pretty effective opening scene: Danny, in 1977, barely escaping being blown up by a car bomb. Unfortunately, it seems every mobster in Cleveland in 1977 tried to kill each other using a car bomb, and we end up seeing explosion after explosion until they lose all potential for providing any sort of tension or surprise. Also, Paul Sorvino shows up for a minute, because I guess we just hadn’t seen enough random good actors being tortured so far.

There is really no reason to see this film. Everything it does has been done better elsewhere. I’m ready to start the Razzie campaign for Ray Stevenson. And I haven’t even mentioned so far the egregious, almost laughable misuse of bagpipes in the background music during “poignant” moments. Come on Hollywood, there’s a reason that mob movies are a perpetual genre. Corruption and lies can make for great stories. We can do better than this.

Final Grade: D-

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