After breaking out in Rome, Ray Stevenson played thugs in a slew of bad movies, from Punisher: War Zone to Cirque du Freak to The Book of Eli. He'll elevate his tough-guy game slightly in Thor and The Three Musketeers later this year, but anyone looking to see him step outside his goon-shaped box would do well to check out Kill the Irishman. The real-life character he plays is still basically a thug, but he's an intelligent, quirky thug with a fabulous mustache, and he holds his own against a huge cast of some of our greatest crime-movie actors. The film itself isn't great art, but it's a fun way to learn about a little-known period in our history, with a lot of explosions in it.
Stevenson plays Danny Greene, a real-life figure from Cleveland who rose up to take over the dockworkers' union, a move that puts him in bed with the Italian mob and ultimately leads to a gang war that rocked Cleveland in 1976. He's also an avid reader, a jogger and a vegetarian, which only helps him in his legbreaking activities, since it means he's studied the Art of War, and is in good enough shape to dodge multiple assassination attempts. The movie starts off with him forcing out the corrupt union leader played by Bob Gunton (the warden from The Shawshank Redemption) before going to work for a local loan shark played by Christopher Walken and becoming besties with a mafioso played by Vincent D'Onofrio and a legbreaker played by Vinnie Jones. Val Kilmer plays a cop from Greene's old neighborhood, with whom Greene has an uneasy understanding, which I think is the only kind of understanding one can have with Val Kilmer. That understanding is put to the test when the car bombs start going off, but it's almost downright friendly for a while there.
The movie was written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, who, coincidentally, wrote and directed the 2004 Punisher movie with Thomas Jane, which should tell you something about the overall quality of the film. It's a shame, because in the right hands the movie could have been the next Goodfellas, a clear stylistic influence and a film with which it has a lot in common. As it stands, it has to rely heavily on the fine actors who populate the film: Walken, Kilmer and Jones are pleasantly grounded, and D'Onofrio is his usual ball of nervous energy. (If you haven't seen him play a loony mobster in Staten Island, I highly recommend it.) In addition, you've got Linda Cardellini (ER) as Greene's wife, Fionnula Flanagan (Lost) as his old Irish neighbor, Steve Schirripa (The Sopranos) as a garbage man, Tony Lo Bianco (The French Connection) as D'Onofrio's rival, Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) as a hitman and Paul Sorvino himself as the big Mafia boss. It's like old home week at the Fake Gangster Club, making the movie a living museum to any fan of those kinds of films, as well as to fans of true crime stories. Unfortunately, living museums aren't as fun to watch as edge-of-your-seat thrill rides, but what are you gonna do.
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