The shadow of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas looms large over any gangster movie made since its 1990 release, but Jonathan Hensleigh’s Kill the Irishman takes more from Scorsese than most, making Hensleigh’s second-rate version look even shabbier by comparison. Like Goodfellas, Irishman is a decades-spanning tale based on the true story of a notorious mobster, in this case Cleveland kingpin Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson). It also uses retrospective narration (from Greene’s detective friend/adversary, played by Val Kilmer) and plenty of period touches, along with some flashy camerawork (although Hensleigh is no Scorsese in that department). But where Goodfellas was epic and stylish, Irishman is rushed and simplistic, with little sense of its characters as people or the flavor of their time and place.
Cleveland isn’t your typical setting for a gangster movie, but Hensleigh does little to distinguish it from anywhere else, nor does he give a real sense of why Greene was so successful in his criminal endeavors (and so hated by his rivals). Stevenson projects grit but not much depth, and the looks into Greene’s personal life are perfunctory at best. This is the kind of movie that has Greene meet a girl in one scene and screw her in the back of a car in the next, and then three scenes later has them married and expecting their second child (four or five scenes after that, she’s leaving him for good and taking their three kids with her). Various secondary gangland figures come and go, played by familiar mob-movie faces including Paul Sorvino, Robert Davi, Mike Starr and Steven R. Schirripa. Hensleigh gets those superficial details right, but everything below the surface is lacking. Even Christopher Walken talking about stroganoff in a small part as a loan shark who mentors Greene elicits only mild amusement. The only thing Irishman really accomplishes is inspiring a desire to watch Goodfellas again.