By Joe Ostrica
Based on local true-crime author and current Lyndhurst Chief of Police Rich Porello’s book, “Kill the Irishman” is a film that chronicles the life of disgraced Cleveland union boss turned local crime legend Danny Greene, known for his “explosive” behavior in the 1970s. Greene was either taking care of his enemies, or his enemies were attempting to take care of him, by planting car bombs, or in some cases, throwing bombs into buildings. In one year alone, Cleveland had 36 bombings. When you break it down, that’s an average of one bomb every 10 days. Insane, and Greene was pretty crazy himself.
An orphan who grew up on the mean streets of Cleveland, often getting in fights with local Italian gangs, Greene was proud of his Irish heritage and was known for being a tough guy.
After muscling his way into the longshoremen’s union, Greene is soon busted for racketeering and other charges. He agreed to serve as an informant to the police for an early release rather than serve jail time. Banned from the union, and forced to move from a nice house to a rough area in Collinwood, Greene is forced to be creative in order to support his family.
Admired by the criminal syndicate, Greene (Ray Stevenson of “Punisher: War Zone,” HBO’s “Rome”) is hired as a debt collector. Greene also bonds with John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), and the two team up to go against a former employer, old-school Jewish mob boss Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken). Both sides attempt to take each other out with numerous failed bomb attempts, gaining the attention of national TV news stations. The Italian mob’s failed attempt at taking out Greene becomes a major embarrassment to the New York crime families. Greene, a survivor of numerous attempts, thinks he’s indestructible, and conducts a TV interview on the front steps of his trailer to tell his enemies where they can find him.
Despite Green’s reputation, he was also known for being a modern-day Robin Hood. The film shows him clearing his neighborhood of a rambunctious group of junkie biker lowlifes, reminiscent of something straight out of a Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro movie. Greene also bought dozens of turkeys around the holidays (or did he steal them out of a truck?), giving them out to the needy. The film shows Greene and his men passing them out to the very police department (including Val Kilmer as a detective who admires Greene but wants to bust him, too) that is tailing him constantly.Whether it happened or not, it makes for an entertaining scene.
For those who complain about the inaccuracies told in the film, one must remember it’s a film and not a documentary. Some stories are deleted or multiple people are combined into one character to keep the story flowing and the running time down. Some stories are embellished or sequences are added for the sake of entertainment. Scorsese and company did the same thing with “Goodfellas” and “Casino.”
For a legendary local mobster story, Greene is as close as this town will ever get to Scorsese territory. Too bad it was shot primarily in Detroit and not in the town where it took place. I also wish the film had more A-list pedigree attached. While director/co-screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh (“The Punisher”) does the best he can with a limited budget, he does go a bit overboard with the “Celtic warrior” he sees Greene as.
It would be interesting to see what a stronger director with a high-caliber cast could do. While Walken, Kilmer, Paul Sorvino and D’Onofrio have given strong performances in their careers, they haven’t done much in the past 15 to 20 years and are normally seen in straight-to-DVD fare. Seeing tough guy character actors Robert Davi and Vinnie Jones only hammers this point home more.
But the film is carried on the broad shoulder of Stevenson, who does a stellar job as Greene. He brings the tough and confident swagger Green was known for, as well as the humor, the emotion and the crazy streak that cemented Green’s legend.
Rated: R. Grade: B.