Kill the Irishman (US - BD RA)
Gabe watches as a lesser filmmaker turns an interesting story rather bland...
Based on the too wacky to not be true story of Cleveland crime boss and secret FBI informant Danny Greene, Kill the Irishman mostly covers Greene’s exploits during the 1970s, which led to the downfall of the Italian mob. The plot is really that simple, and to go into specifics would probably defeat the point of watching the film at all. For his first period gangster flick, capable underachiever Jonathan Hensleigh reveals that he’s taken more than a few pages from the Martin Scorsese handbook. Specifically, Hensleigh apes about everything he possibly can from the basic structure from Goodfellas, stopping just short of plagiarist accusation. For the most part, this is the fast-forward version of a slightly different, more ‘heroic’ gangster’s life as seen through a lesser Scorsese’s lens, including a similar overall tone (leaning more towards the buoyant rather than the desperate), a similar use of montage and narration, a similar use of period music to assist the story’s movement, and perhaps most telling, the use of excessive camera pull-outs and push-ins at the top and bottom of scenes. Hensleigh doesn’t use a lot of slow motion though, and extends very little of his focus on Danny Greene’s childhood. The smartest and easiest to forgive aspect Hensleigh snatches is a raw sense of humour that can turn to the vicious on a dime, without warning. There is a minor sense of quirk at play, and it certainly helps considering the lack of snappy dialogue or particularly memorable characters.
Hensleigh doesn’t entirely disappear into the film. He’s not a very good screenwriter (perfectly capable, but never good), but he has some taste as a director, and makes a good looking movie. I never saw Welcome to the Jungle (heard it was terrible), but I can see things here that he carried over from The Punisher, which was a fine looking movie, if not a particularly good one. Occasionally the editing flat out sucks between scene cuts (jarring without purpose, confusing, generally stupid), but the overall pacing is perfect for such a film. I was rarely enthralled with the storytelling, but at no point was I bored or checking the clock. The sense of humour certainly helps, as does the fact that this too crazy not to be true story is pretty irresistible (even if I think I’d prefer to read the book). Ray Stevenson, who amusingly enough played Frank Castle in one of two Punisher movies Hensleigh didn’t direct, is just fine. His performance is low key, reasonably charming, and generally similar to a low rent, ‘70s era Jason Robards. The rest of the B-all-star cast either naps through their roles, or does a decent impression of better roles they’ve played in the past. The problem is that most of the actors appear to be acting in their own little bubbles, as if this is ‘The Ray Stevenson Show’, featuring cameos from relatively famous actors playing themselves to save time. There isn’t a single involving relationship in the entire film.
Kill the Irishman is another in the seemingly never ending line of modern movies that signify the 1970s through blown-out, yellowed photography. This isn’t so much a complaint, as a point of interest. Sepia equals the ’30s, grey/blue equals the ‘40s, soft, warm palettes equal the ‘60s, blown-out yellows equal the ‘70s, and neons equal the ‘80s. I don’t know what equals the ‘50s. Anyway, this 1080p transfer is as good as we can expect, featuring relatively consistent detail levels from front to back, minor digital grain, sharp edges, and solid colours. I’m most impressed with the details, which are rarely scientifically fine, but thanks to the use of wide lenses, very level over most frames. You can’t necessarily count the hairs on an actor’s chin, but you can read the words on set pieces and props pretty far into the background. Some of the warmer backgrounds exhibit obvious low level noise, but the colours are mostly well blocked, and there are some nice poppy highlights. There are a few brief shots that appear fuzzier and grainier than the rest of the film, but this almost always appears to have something to do with the filming process (some are clearly stock footage shots). Tragically the general sharpness of this transfer leads some of the sadder digital effects, usually fire, to look even sadder.
This disc features a solid, though relatively unassuming Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Most of the film is made up of clear and centered dialogue with a few added effects, some that even leak out into the stereo and surround channels creating a hint of ambience. The few action sequences feature a bit of directional work like zipping cars, flying bullets, and on one occasion echoing machinery. The gunshots have real punch, and the explosions rumble as needed thanks to solid LFE support. Hensleigh’s musical choices are, aside from the opening sequences, the one element that most reminds me of Scorsese’s gangster films. Overall, I find that the music is a little low on the track, but this may just come out of the fact that I’m comparing its use to Scorsese’s, and Scorsese tends to blast his music at top volume. Patrick Cassidy’s period inspired score is well spread over the front channels, and also benefits from solid subwoofer support.
This disc’s one major extra is Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of The Irishman (60:30, SD) is a sort of goofy, super-sensationalistic, stylish, informative, thorough and entertaining documentary on the real life Danny Greene. Tonally and stylistically this is the kind of thing you’d see on cable TV, which isn’t a problem by any means. This doc features interviews with many of the surviving witnesses, original news footage of Greene, and a whole bunch of stills from throughout Greene’s life. Things end with the original trailer for the film, and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.
Kill the Irishman isn’t a bad movie, but it never manages to be genuinely good either, thanks to unremarkable direction and performances and some derivative storytelling techniques. The story of Danny Greene is so fascinating, and has gone surprisingly untold on film before, so those without the time or patience for reading Rick Porello’s book To Kill the Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mob (like me) will find a watchable set of Cliff’s Notes in Jonathan Hensleigh’s adaptation. Perhaps even more satisfying is the hour long documentary on the subject that is featured in this Blu-ray release’s extras. The video and audio qualities are just fine as well. This one is worth a rent, assuming you’re expectations are appropriately tempered.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 14th June 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Cast: Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vincent D'Onofrio, Linda Cardellini, Val Kilmer
Length: 106 minutes