Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Smart, old-fashioned movie-making grit: Jonathan Hensleigh's KILL THE IRISHMAN


What a retrograde pleasure it is to see a film like KILL THE IRISHMAN. Jonathan Henleigh's period piece not only takes place in the Ohio of the 1970s but looks like it was filmed thirty-five years ago, too. And while the tag line on the poster tells us, "Based on the true story of Danny Greene, the man the mob couldn't kill," this is not technically (or for that matter literally, symbolically, metaphorically) true. Unless you add the phrase, "For awhile." But TrustMovies is quibbling again. Along with co-writer Jeremy Walters, from the book by Rick Porrello (who was also an executive producer of the movie), Mr. Hensleigh has written and directed an old-fashioned, gritty, event-filled film that speeds along like the proverbial runaway train.

Beginning in the middle of things, we get our first big "event," after which we flashback to Danny's childhood then speed onwards until we reach said event again -- and proceed from there. This proves smart organization because, once we're hurled into things, we hardly have time to catch our breath. Mr. Hensleigh, shown at left, knows how to create small, sharp scenes that include enough information to keep us current and just ahead of the game. And he's cast his movie with a simply splendid set of some of our best char-acter actors, particularly those we love to watch pulling nasty shenanigans.

Christopher Walken (above) is in fine form as the mafia-connected restaurant owner who initially helps our hero, while the priceless Vincent D'Onofrio (below, left) shows a sweet side not seen perhaps since Adventures in Babysitting as Danny's one true Italian mobster friend.

Smaller supporting roles are perfectly handled by stalwarts like Paul Sorvino, Tony LoBianco and Steve Schirripa. These guys, of course, could do Italian mobsters in their sleep. But they don't. Instead they tackle every moment with lip-smacking ferocity that's bracing to see (and hear).

On the Irish side (for this is an Irish vs Italian scenario) are fun-to-watch folk like Vinnie Jones and Fionnula Flanagan. In fact, the only drawback in this enormous and talented cast, Val Kilmer (above), seems to be having trouble staying awake. Granted his role is the least of things; as written and carried out, it appears to provide only a thankless narration/thread for the story.

Saving the best for the last, our star is a fellow whose career seems quite on the rise: Ray Stevenson, above, who made such a fine impression as one of the stars of the HBO series Rome, then later made a terrific avenger in the second (and under-rated) of the still-trying Punisher movies. (Interestingly enough, Mr. Hensleigh wrote and directed the first of these.) Stevenson makes a fine figure of a man as Danny Greene. Alert, strong and decent (when decency is called for), he'll put you in mind of that benign dictator we all desire now and again. His hair alone (is this the first time we've seen him without a barely-there crew-cut?) is worth watching, and everything else about this guy is good, too.

How true all this is to the "facts" of the matter, I don't know. Probably no more so than most movies "based-on-real-events." Yet so real looking and seeming are the places and people on view, that I'd say -- movie-wise -- Hensleigh and his fine cast have all but wrapped up 1970s Ohio for posterity.

You can catch Kill the Irishman, from Anchor Bay Films, starting Friday, March 11, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and also in both Los Angeles and Cleveland.  Additional cities will be added the following week. Click here (and then click on SHOWTIMES at top) to learn all cities, dates and theaters.

2 comments:

Beverly said...

Really nice Review. Love the way you added the pictures throughout. I'm hoping the film comes to Canada real soon.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Beverly -- I would hope it will come to Canada, though probably via a different distributor. Keep watching for it. And I appreciate your taking the time to comment!