If I was just a little dumber, I’d probably really like Ray Stevenson. I already almost do. And In Kill the Irishman, he managed to toe the line between affable and murderer pretty well. Not that thats especially hard to do. It’s actually really easy, come to think of it. The lovable scamp criminal is a fixture of modern cinema.
I have two main problems with Stevenson. One: he isn’t a good actor. Two: he is an actor.
Allow me to explain. Actors are not tough. They’re the opposite of tough. Not that I place a lot of stock in toughness (outside the cage). But whenever an actor tries to make a name for himself specifically as a badass I just think it comes off unbelievably lame. For me this all started with Sam Jackson constantly being referred to (and referring to himself) as a “bad motherfucker.” Even then, over a decade ago, my reaction was “Yeah right dude, you’re not a badass. You pretend to be fictional badasses.” And thats pretty much how I feel about Ray Stevenson, too.
Hey, maybe he actually does, I don’t know, fight people or whatever. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, but even if he did it wouldn’t change much for me. It would just be a different can of worms. An actor trying to typecast himself as a badass is lame even if he actually is one. That’s my feeling on the matter.
As to his acting abilities, they’re extremely limited. I used to love him as Titus Pullo in Rome. But both he and the guy who played Lucius Vorenus are really pretty bad actors. The beauty of the set and the richness of the material cover for them at first, but when you start to watch these episodes for the second time it becomes obvious both of those guys, and Stevenson in particular, were far from impressive. Some of their scenes together are borderline laughable. And I love that show.
Kill the Irishman was by no means his worst work. In fact, I enjoyed it. But I’ve had some people assume I’m a big Ray Stevenson fan, and I want to go on the record and say that is not the case.
I’ll tell you who I am a fan of: Val Kilmer. He’s in it. As are Christopher Walken and Vincent D’Onofrio. Pretty interesting cast, I thought*. Kilmer is Kilmer. Walken has some funny parts. D’Onofrio brings his usual brand of confused facial expressions. Vinnie Jones was also in da how. I’d really like to know which of these guys, if any, were hanging out together during filming. A Kilmer/Walken hang in particular would be fascinating.
*The exception to this being that douchebag Guido Steve Schirripa. “Hey, check me out, I’m fat! I’m Italian!” Barf. The guy “wrote” a “book” called The Goomba’s Guide to Life. Shameless. Fuck him.
This movie tells the story of Danny Greene, an Irish gangster who went up against the mafia in Cleveland in the 70s. Obviously a little before my time, but I gather this guy was somewhat of a household name back then. 36 car bombs went off in the Cleveland mob wars in 1976 alone. Greene survived countless assassination attempts, and even killed several of the assassins the mob sent for him. In 1977 he was finally killed, but the war he’d started crippled the mob in Cleveland, and they never really recovered. It’s a pretty cool story. Inspired a book entitled To Kill The Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia. If I ever stumble across it in my travels, it will be purchased and read.
My main problem with the movie was that it seemed all too willing to sacrifice historical accuracy in the name of an easy-to-digest narrative. I guess you could probably say the same of every mob movie to an extent, but the good ones always seem very genuine and unique. Kill the Irishman borrows from the genre a little too much. As opposed to something like Goodfellas, which never really gives you what you want or expect. That movie ends with Liotta’s character living a dull, normal life full of regret. Nobody would’ve written that, but the fact that it’s actually what happened makes it much more interesting. Kill the Irishman‘s ending can be predicted five minutes in. Very obvious, very contrived.
Ending aside, director Jonathan Hensleigh* deserves some dap for managing to avoid a few common mistakes. First, he didn’t try to play up how much Greene and his wife loved each other. Didn’t try to make a cookie-cutter romance where there wasn’t one. I’m tired of every movie having to be about the greatest love ever known. You shouldn’t be subjected to that onscreen unless it’s what you’re going to the movie for. You go see fucking Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in Water for Elephants (stupidest title ever?) and you’ve signed up for some love-at-first-sight-that-lasts-forever-and-burns-with-the-passion-of-a-thousand-suns boo-shit. A mob movie shouldn’t feel obligated to cram that down our throats. Thankfully, this one doesn’t. Greene’s first wife and children play a very small role, as does his later romantic interest.
*Hensleigh hasn’t done much directing, but check out these hilarious writing credits! The Punisher (Tom Jane version), The Saint, Next, Armageddon, Jumanji, Die Hard: With a Vengeance. That right there is a rap-sheet worthy of some discussion
The other mistake Hensligh avoided was the unknown side-character ridiculous death scene. You know, the one that goes for the heartstrings but misses the mark so badly its laughable? These are becoming increasingly common. Almost every action movie comes equipped with one. Sometimes its a character you don’t even recognize. Kill the Irishman features numerous deaths, but other than Greene’s they’re all handled in more or less the right way. The sad ones are actually characters you’ve grown to like, and the plot doesn’t dwell unnecessarily on the others.
This movie doesn’t try too hard to pull on the heartstrings until the very end. I appreciated that. Everything in its measure. A real historical character becomes much more tragic if his true story is told. I can’t say for sure if that was done here, and frankly I suspect not. You’re definitely fed cheese, but it hasn’t quite curdled. These days I’m calling that $13 well spent.