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Movie Review

Kill the Irishman

Gangster tale ‘Irishman’ has heart, if not brains

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By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / March 18, 2011

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Think of Danny Greene, a Cleveland mobster during the ’60s and ’70s, as his own repertory company. A little bit of Jimmy Hoffa (Danny got his start in the unions). A little bit of Whitey Bulger (an Irishman coexisting with the Mafia, he’s a secret FBI informant). A little bit of Crazy Joey Gallo (self-publicity and unpredictability are his preferred poison). And a lot of Legs Diamond (he’s survived almost as many attempts on his life as there are counties in Ireland — Eire and the north combined).

It’s a good thing Greene really existed, otherwise you’d never believe him onscreen. He sits in a bar reading “Irish Battalions in the Great War.’’ He does pushups every morning in the park (handy for hitmen wanting to rub him out). He considers the merits of a vegetarian diet and urges his crew to watch their cholesterol. Not only does he (literally) help a little old lady across the street. He does it to get her away from a bomb he’s about to set off.

“You have the eyes of a warrior, it’s true,’’ Danny’s crazy-Irish-lady neighbor tells him. “But I see somethin’ else. I see goodness.’’

Well, seeing is believing, and Ray Stevenson has the berserker-longshoreman bearing to bring Danny off — not to mention the raw smarts and even rawer presence. He’s too old to play young Danny. But plausibility is the sort of thing that would matter in a movie that’s much better than “Kill the Irishman’’ — and likely less entertaining.

The best thing about the picture (unless you like exploding cars, in which case the rest of the movie is just so many interruptions between getting to see all these big old ’70s boats going boom) is its proudly hammy supporting cast. Playing that neighbor, for example, is the great Fionnula Flanagan (most recently Faraday’s mother, on “Lost’’). Vincent D’Onofrio barely breaks a sweat as a Mafia ally of Danny. Val Kilmer, as a cop, provides a lugubrious voiceover and looks like Beau Bridges after both of them stopped talking to Jenny Craig. Also along for the ride — some of them get taken for rides — are Tony Lo Bianco, Steven R. Schirripa (Uncle Junior’s minder, on “The Sopranos’’), and Paul Sorvino.

In a special category is Christopher Walken, as a numbers kingpin. He has only four scenes, two of them quite brief. But in one he pronounces the word “loansharking’’ with more topspin than Wimbledon and the US Open put together. It’s hard to say who’s having more fun: Walken saying or you hearing. In another, he’s searching for the name of Marilyn Monroe’s “commie writer’’ husband. You know, that guy “Miller.’’

“Arthur Miller,’’ the well-read Danny says.

Walken nods. “Archie Miller, yeah,’’ and keeps telling his story.

“They have not built a bomb big enough to kill Danny Greene,’’ Stevenson bellows at one point. Nor a screenplay good enough for Archie Miller to get the credit. In the meantime, though, as a kind of St. Patrick’s Day hangover, “Kill the Irishman’’ gets the job done.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.

KILL THE IRISHMAN Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Written by: Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters, based on a book by Rick Porrello

Starring: Ray Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken

Running time: 106 min.

Rated: R (for strong violence, language, and some sexual content/nudity)

At: Kendall Square

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