Kill the Irishman (2011)

A review by Shlomoh Sherman
September 17, 2014

Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Writers: Jonathan Hensleigh (screenplay), Jeremy Walters (screenplay)
Stars: Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vincent D'Onofrio
Plot: The true story of Danny Greene, a tough Irish thug working for mobsters in Cleveland during the 1970's.
Plot Keywords: irish - informant - gangster - corruption - assassination attempt  
Taglines: Based on the true story of Danny Greene the man the mob couldn't kill
Genres: Action - Biography - Crime - Drama - Thriller
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
Official Sites: Anchor Bay Films [United States]
Country: USA
Language: English
Genres: Action - Biography - Crime
Release Date: May 11, 2012 (Mexico)
Also Known As: Bulletproof Gangster
Filming Locations: Detroit, Michigan, USA, Tiger Stadium - 2121 Trumbull Avenue, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Company Credits: Production Co: Anchor Bay Films, Code Entertainment, Dundee Entertainment
Runtime: 106 min

Last month, I was at the South Euclid Library monthly book sale. My friend, Suzanne, showed me a paperback book called KILL THE IRISHMAN: The War That Crippled The Mafia by Rick Porrello, grandson and nephew of slaughtered Mafia men in Greater Cleveland, Ohio. I was amazed. I have been living in Ohio for 7 years and before seeing that book, I had no idea that the Mafia ever existed in the Cleveland area. But obviously, during the Prohibition Era and for several decades after, Greater Cleveland was a strong mob hub.

KILL THE IRISHMAN is the biography of Danny Greene (November 14, 1933 October 6, 1977), a working-class young Irish-American who rises to power by muscling himself and several of his close friends in as president of the longshoreman's local union and venturing into a life of crime. Danny, proud of his Irish ancestry, looked upon himself as the embodiment of an ancient Celtic warrior. In his free time he read about Irish history, and he began to think of himself as a "Celtic warrior". Danny set up his own gang called the Celtic Club, complete with "enforcers". Late in his life, he befriended a neighbor, an elderly Irish woman, Grace O'Keefe, who at first disliked him but eventually saw the proud ethnic side of him and developed a fondness for him, even giving him a crucifix given to her by her parents, telling him, "We're drunks, we're fighters, we're liars! But there's a bit of good in every Irishman."

Of course there is good in every scoundrel and much like many mob figures, Danny helped out poor people in the neighborgood, gaining the reputation of a Robin Hood-like figure with nine lives as he escaped countless assassination attempts, 35 attempts to be exact.

Early in his criminal career, he drew the attention of the local Cleveland police. Eventually he was arrested under charges of union corruption but was ordered released by the local Cleveland FBI after consenting to become an informant for them.

Danny also made friends with Alex Shondor Birns a Jewish-American racketeer from the Cleveland area, labeled as the city's "Public enemy No. 1" by the local newspapers. Shondor initially tried to help Danny with the construction of his new Celtic Club headquarters by securing a loan of $70,000 from the New York Mafia. Unfortunately the money was stollen by the courier who was to deliver it to Danny and the mob held him responsible for its loss. Shondor also told Danny that he was responsible for the debt but Danny said that he was not going to return money that he never received. This disagreement caused a fallout between Danny and Shondor, leading Danny to kill him.

But Danny also drew the attention of the local Mafia. Danny had to decide whether to become their competitor or cooperator. Choosing the latter, he became friends with John Nardi, a "Cleveland family" labor racketeer, who wanted to overthrow the Cleveland underworld leaders.

Danny's ego was unbounded and just as he had muscled his way into leadership of the longshoreman's union, with Nardi's help, he began to muscle his way into those areas of crime which the Mafia considered their own. It was then that he gained the ire of the mob which then declared open war on Danny and Nardi.

For the rest of his life, he became a regular Mafia target. Over 30 attempts were made to bomb his car and his house. He escaped each. But Danny and Nardi also responded in kind, successfully bombing and blowing many mobsters to hell. Asked by a reporter how he managed to survive every attempt on his life, Danny replied, "I am an Irish Catholic. I believe that the Guy upstairs pulls the strings, and you're not going to go until he says so. It just wasn't my time yet."

But eventually it was his time. Danny had decided to leave the criminal life and move to Texas where he would own and run a cattle ranch, giving the rights to market his cattle beef to the Mafia, offering them 50% of his profits. The offer came too late. By now, the Mafia [both in Cleveland and New York] hated Greene; they spurned his offer and brought in an out of town assassin, Raymond Ferritto, a mobster from Erie, Pennsylvania, who succeeeded where others had failed. His car bombs killed both Nardi and Danny Greene, bringing the life and career of the legendary Cleveland Celtic warrior to an end.

Rick Porrello's book portrays Danny as a hardened and viscious criminal. Ray Stevenson's portrayal in the film appears to be somewhat softened, bringing out the good natured Robin Hood aspect of his personality. But the real Danny Greene was anything but good-natured. Good-natured men do not make it in the hard bolied world of Mafiosi. Stevenson is perhaps best know for his role in The 2008 Punisher sequel, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE.

Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays John Nardi, is of course best known for his role as LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT's Bobby Goren and for his role as Pvt. Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence in FULL METAL JACKET. The role of Nardi may have well been better suited to another actor.

Christopher Walken, who received the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Deer Hunter (1978), often portrays psychologically unstable characters. His portrayal of Shondor Birns is adequate. There is no mention made of Birns' Jewishness although the film acknowledges that he regularly preferred to use his Yiddish name, Shondor, which translates as Alexander, his English name.

Val Kilmer, remembered for his role as Jim Morrison in THE DOORS, had gained so much weight in 2011 that he was barely recognizable as police detective Joe Manditski, boyhood friend to Danny when they wre children, and foe-friend to Danny as adults.

Bob Gunton, perhaps first really noticed as Warden Norton in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, has a small but effectively acted role as the longshoreman's union boss whom Danny ousts.

Vinnie Jones, one of our fav British villains, meanly playing bad men in SNATCH, SWORDFISH, and ESCAPE PLAN, is as bad as ever in playing Keith Ritson, Danny's chief enforcer.

Paul Sorvino, first seen by me in DAY OF THE DOLPHIN, played a variety of roles as a younger man but in his later years has come to be typecast as an Italian mobster.He plays Tony Salerno, the New York mafioso who declines Danny's cattle beef distribution offer and hires Ray Ferritto who succeeds in killing the Irishman.

The film received mixed reviews. Called by some the "Poor Man's Scorcece" [homage to GOODFELLAS], and described by reviwer kjs-2 as a film with "Great Acting, Direction, Writing, with realistic effects" was also panned as a movie with many "Hollywood clichés?" by reviwer overfloden, as "Poorly acted, written and produced" by reviewer Bigchingan.

My own feeling, although I enjoyed watching the movie on the small screen, is that at times it seems to be a low budget film with A level actors whose appearences save the film from the movie graveyard.

Of course, for me there are additional reasons for liking the film enough to write this review.

Firstly the movie takes place in a city which lies directly due west of the Northeastern suburb where I live. Danny was born and raised, and spent much of his later life, in the Collinwood neighborhood, not far from my own neighborhood. This area was once an Italian neighborhood but now is demographically mixed, and like much of Cleveland has fallen on hard times.

My friend, Suzanne's mother actually knew Danny Greene and she remembers him as a charismatic man whom many of her generation thought of as "charming". Janet, Suzanne's mother, was once at a local Collinwood bar. Danny came in and bought her a drink. Ignoring his criminal career, she remembers him as the Celtic warrior Robin Hood, a role he played to the hilt.

I don't think that you can see the film at any movie theater at this time but I borrowed it from the Euclid Public Library and probably your own local library has a copy. So try to see it if you care to and let me know what you think.

The music playing in the backgroud is of course from the movie's sound track.

Did You Know?:
'Tommy Reid' noted that getting mobster Danny Greene's story on film took 12 years. Reid, a native of New Jersey, says he learned about Greene while a student at Ohio State University. Reid went on to buy the options to the book by Rick Porrello titled "To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia," on which the film is based.
Danny Greene became such a folk hero in Cleveland that a young admirer penned a ballad in his honor. It reads in part, "...They shot him down and blew him up With most regular persistence. Through guile and luck and skill, Danny Greene is with us still. Some day he'll die, as all we must, Some will laugh but most will cry. His legend will live on for years, To bring his friends mixed pleasure, For he has done both bad and good, And lived his life full measure."
Both actor 'Ray Stevenson' and director 'Jonathan Hensleigh' have been with The Punisher film series (despite all three films have been reboots). Ray played The Punisher in Punisher: War Zone (2008) and Jonathan directed The Punisher (2004).
Three actors in the film, Christopher Walken, Robert Davi and Mike Starr all attended Hofstra University on Long Island, New York.
Val Kilmer joined the production after he declined the opportunity to run for Governor of his home state of New Mexico.
The plot to kill the Irishman (Danny Greene) involved an unprecedented breach of FBI security when a clerk was bribed by the mob and actually stole a list of confidential informants from a top secret room. Cleveland agents acted quickly, plugging the leak and arresting their clerk.
The production temporarily re-opened the retired Tiger Stadium known as Navin Field for approximately one week. The stadium originally opened in 1912 and closed 87 years later when the Detroit Tigers departed for their new facility. The stadium was then demolished after the production completed filming.

Many vintage cars are used in this film, most of them mint specimens that are clearly collectors items. But the makers ignored the fact that Cleveland winters usually took a costly toll on vehicles driven year-round. One scene in particular shows Danny's wife leaving him in what appears to be a 1955 Ford. A 20 year old car in Cleveland back in the seventies would have been rusted out dreadfully with holes in the fenders and rocker panels. This beauty looks like it left the showroom last week! Look closely at the cars in the film and you will see they are all in perfect condition even though they would have been 5 or 10 years old. In a wide shot of the alley shown before Danny talks to the gamblers, a skyscraper with a brightly-lit DTE Energy sign at its pinnacle is visible in the background. DTE Energy didn't exist until 1995, 20 years or so after the scene takes place.
A'65 or '66 Mustang is shown driving by on the street in an early-'60s scene.
One of the first bar scenes has 2 men sitting at the bar with Pabst Blue Ribbon bottles. Both bottles have UPC bar codes on the labels. UPC labeling wasn't used until the 1980s and later.
19 minutes in there's a new digital burglar-alarm panel on the wall in the back. This was not produced and used before the mid-'90s.
When Danny goes to talk to Mike about joining the union, there's a segment where Mike is talking about his kids. You see his son wearing Converse One Star basketball shoes. Converse One Stars weren't debuted until 1974. This scene takes place in 1971.
In the movie, Danny Greene is killed in his Cadillac, but in reality he was killed in his Lincoln Continental.
1 of 1 St. Malachi's Church in Cleveland is spelled with an 'i,' not a "Y" as shown in the movie.

Danny Greene: Mr. MacLeish; Danny Green.
Mr. MacLeish: I know who ya are. You're the tool who sent me this... Four thousand to unload each vessel? Are you outta your fucking mind? The price is two thousand. We have a contract and you're going to honor it or I'm going to lock out your union. Is that clear ya fuckin' potato eater?
Danny Greene: Potato eater? Seeing as how the potato was the only source of nutrition in Ireland for 300 years and half the population including my ancestors died in the great famine, I'd say that term is insensitive. Speaking of culinary tastes, Mr. MacLeish, you're Scottish aren't you? Let's talk about Haggis. Haggis is seasoned lard stuffed into a sheep's colon. So I may be a potato eater Mr. MacLeish but I don't eat fat out of a sheep's asshole... What do you think of the new carpet?
Danny Greene: What makes me so special?
Joan Madigan: 'Cause you're different from all those idiots.
Grace O'Keefe: We're drunks, we're fighters, we're liars! But there's a bit of good in every Irishman...
Jerry Merke: I'll give you three seconds...
Danny Greene: [Slaps Jerry across the face] ... To do *what*?
John Nardi: From now on, your enemies are my enemies.
Joe Manditski: [Narrating about Danny Greene] It was only a matter of time before he started hanging out at the Theatrical Grill. Every town's got a Theatrical. The one place where crooks and cops sit side by side.
Danny Greene: [Staggers away from his car after it explodes, nearly killing him] That all ya got? It's gonna take more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!
Shondor Birns: [Hands over an envelope of money] You give this to the man who kills the Irishman.
Tony Salerno: What the hell is going on out there? This is one guy, you can't take care of it?
Jack Licavoli: We've shot him, we've blown him up! I mean, nothing we do seems to matter with this guy!
Tony Salerno: Eight times you tried to get this mick cocksucker, eh? What are you doing? Where's your men? Where's Brancato?
Jack Licavoli: Watching the city.
Tony Salerno: Watching the city? Might as well *give* the city to this mick prick!

I'M GONNA KEEP ON LOVING YOU Written by Norman Whiteside, William Gilbert and John Primm Performed by Kool Blues Courtesy of Numero Group by arrangement with Bank Robber Music
CRAZY LITTLE NOTION Written by L. Stuart Performed by The Two Guys Courtesy of Pig Factory USA o/b/o Lee Silver Productions
ALL I WANT IS YOU Written by Stephen Lang, Jamie Dunlap and Scott Nickoley Performed by Leroy Osbourne Courtesy of Master Source Music Catalog o/b/o Revision West and Red Engine Music
I LIKE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT ME Written by Kenneth Goodloe, Ted Goodloe, Joe C. Jones, Willie O. Munson and Carl Rudolph McGinnis. Performed by The Pentagons Courtesy of Pig Factory USA o/b/o Lee Silver Productions
WRONG OR RIGHT HE'S MY BABY Written by Willie Clarke and Clarence Reid Performed by Helene Smith Courtesy of Numero Group by arrangement with Bank Robber Music
HOW ABOUT YOU Written by Stephen Lang, Jamie Dunlap & Scott Nickoley Courtesy of Marc Ferrari/MasterSource
MEET ME FOR A MARTINI Written by Daniel May and Marc Ferrari Performed by Daniel May Courtesy of Marc Ferrari /Master Source
PADDY ON THE LANDFILL Written by Rob Hayes Arr. by The Irish Experience (Joe Bowbeer, Tom Hotchkin, Tom May) Performed by The Irish Experience Courtesy of Joe Bowbeer
COURTING CLARINETS Written by Stefan Maciejewski Courtesy of APM Music HEART OF GOLD Written by Norman Chandler Courtesy of APM Music
THIS IS IT Written by Stephen Lang, Jamie Dunlap and Scott Nickoley Performed by Lewis Lamedica Courtesy of Marc Ferrari / Master Source
GET IN A HURRY Written by Eugene Blacknell Performed by Eugene Blacknell Ubiquity Records Label Courtesy of Sugaroo!
YOU'RE A PRISONER Written by David Hackney and Bobby Dean Hackney Performed by Death Drag City Label Courtesy of Bank Robber Music
BROADWAY SHING-A-LING Written by Leonard Michael Lenaburg Performed by Soul Blenders Courtesy of John P. Dixon for Ramco Records and Fervor Records
DAFFY DOTTY DAY Written by Johnny Caruso, Jeffrey Silverman amd Roberta Silverman Performed by Lake Smash Courtesy of Johnny Caruso
I'M RUNNING OUT OF TIME Written by Byron Binns and Gary Michael Allen Performed by Gary Michael Allen Courtesy of Crucial Music Corporation
CIELO E MAR Written by Amilcare Ponchielli Arranged by Paul Pritchard Courtesy of APM Music
SULLA RIVIERA Written by Bruno Bertoli Courtesy of APM Music
ETERNAL FATHER FOR Written by Michael Hankinson (Arr.) Traditional Courtesy of 5 Alarm Music
YOUR SMILING FACE Written by Norman Chandler Courtesy of APM Music
IT'S NOT TOO LATE Written by Doug Davis Performed by Christopher Blue Courtesy of John P. Dixon for Blue Ram and Fervor Records
DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE Written by Patrick Martin Cusick Performed by Pat Cusick Courtesy of Crucial Music Corporation
LIKE A MOTH INTO A FLAME Written by David Philip Performed by The Automatics Courtesy of Elvage Music
DON'T WORRY TRACY Written by Doug Davis Performed by Christopher Blue Courtesy of John P. Dixon for Blue Ram and Fervor Records
BONNY PORTMORE Traditional 16th Century Irish Air [Arranged by Steven Randall Wothke, Nelson James Guy Stewart, Ebert Stanley Jones and Jeremy Freeman?] Performed by The Rogues Courtesy of The Rogues
SEAPORT LANE Written and Performed by Athena Tergis

Cast overview, first billed only:
Ray Stevenson   ... Danny Greene
Vincent D'Onofrio   ... John Nardi
Val Kilmer         ... Joe Manditski
Christopher Walken   ... Shondor Birns
Linda Cardellini  ... Joan Madigan
Tony Darrow        ... Mikey Mendarolo
Robert Davi  ... Ray Ferritto
Fionnula Flanagan  ... Grace O'Keefe
Bob Gunton        ... Jerry Merke
Jason Butler Harner ... Art Sneperger
Vinnie Jones  ... Keith Ritson
Tony Lo Bianco  ... Jack Licavoli
Laura Ramsey  ... Ellie O'Hara
Steve Schirripa  ... Mike Frato )
Paul Sorvino  ... Tony Salerno

The story of Danny Greene has a postscript. His death led to the decline of the Cleveland Mafia and also to the decline of the Mafia nationwide. Read about it it HERE

Return To The Reviews Index Page

Return To The Site Index Page

Email Shlomoh