It’s based on a true story, which immediately notifies the audience that creative liberties will be generously taken. A rather impressive collaboration of regular gangster actors show up for Kill the Irishman, including Christopher Walken, Robert Davi, Vinnie Jones, Paul Sorvino, Mike Starr, and Steve Schirripa. Many of them give the movie a decidedly authentic feel, paired with a believable assortment of props and costumes. The problem with having so many convincing mobsters is that when actors unaccustomed to playing a hood step onscreen, they’re painfully obvious.
In Cleveland in the 1960s, Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson, delivering a largely expressionless, monotonic performance) is on the rise to become a powerful man amidst organized crime. He’s a workingman, and gains the respect of his comrades of the longshoreman’s union, enabling him to oust the previous boss Jerry Merke (Bob Gunton), governed by the mafia, to become the president himself. He does this with very little effort, throwing around a few insults and slapping or fist fighting those in his way. Oddly, few put up a struggle – when he battles Merke’s hulking bodyguard, the man goes down without delivering a single punch. Some of the major problems with the film involve the great lengths traveled to make Greene seem tough, warrior-like or godly – he’s shown as a “Godfather” character who can rack up favors and connections, but also physically beat his opponents. In addition, he’s a gangster with a heart.
“I never do this,” implausibly whispers Greene’s new girlfriend Joan Madigan (Linda Cardellini), a bartender, as they make love in the back of a car the first night they meet. Soon they’re married, have two children, and the towering Irishman is arrested for extortion, racketeering and other methods of corruption. He’s released when he agrees to give information regularly to Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer, looking as bloated and heavy as Orson Welles), a docks detective who keeps popping up just to narrate the tale. Kilmer rarely interacts in a crucial way with Greene, instead just offering up bits of voiceover narration to fill in gaps in details.
Eventually, Greene is forced to look for work with Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken), a loan shark in need of new debt collectors. Throughout the 1970s, Greene regains his standing as a man not to be messed with, while also battling his morals and his desire to break free from the shady business he’s immersed in. When a large loan set up by Shondor is seized by the cops, Greene upsets the mob and becomes the target of a $25,000 cash hit. Eight or so attempts are made on his life, but he’s seemingly invincible, and fights back with a gang war that sees 36 bomb detonations in Cleveland in 1976 alone, continually leveling the playing field and the thugs working for each faction of crime.
While Kill the Irishman is clearly trying to be the next Goodfellas, what with its subtle humor, use of violence to mend all situations, light narration, catchy music at all the right spots, plenty of montages and initial glamorization of the mafia, it fails with the storytelling and the cast. More supporting actors are believable over the leads, (the most offensive overacting and underacting comes from Vincent D’Onofrio, Tony Lo Bianco and Laura Ramsey) and the action, suspense and tone of the movie are as flat as Stevenson’s inflectionless dialogue.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)