In an era when even low-budget movies have slick digital presentation, the infectiously crude "Kill the Irishman" is a tonic of knocked-out teeth.
The movie looks like it was made by two guys, one holding a 16 mm camera, another chasing the actors with a boom mike (to capture dialogue that wavers indiscriminately between good and bad).
I felt like a kid at the drive-in watching Joe Don Baker bash guys with a board in "Walking Tall," except that "Irishman" is a strictly urban affair - based on the actual exploits of a guy named Danny Green, who instigated a mob war in Cleveland in the 1970s.
Rangy Ray Stevenson plays Green, a self-styled "Celtic warrior" whose small band of Irish-American hardheads battled other ethnic groups (even bikers) for control of Cleveland rackets - at the peak of violence, the city was ripped by 30 bomb blasts in the span of a few years.
This is as the proudly Irish Green fought pitched battles with a Jewish loan shark (Christopher Walken) and a Sicilian mobster (Tony LoBianco, a cool relic from the gritty 1970s dramas that the movie recalls). Word of warning: the movie articulates ethnic factionalism in a way that is perhaps accurate to the period, but certainly offensive by today's standards.
"Irishman" starts with Green's formative years as a dockworker and putative union leader. When a friend suffers heat stroke on the job, Green doesn't wait for an reform election, he displaces the union leader by beating him up and taking over his office.
As depicted here, Green is never power-hungry or sadistic - there's always some strange ethic guiding his behavior. He's an unconquerable man navigating corrupt systems, a man of action, but a voracious reader, smarter and craftier than his rivals.
He's not heroic, exactly, but his refusal to take guff inspires admiration in people (women included), and in the filmmakers.
Indeed, the Green of "Irishman" seems larger than life, and the movie is too luridly entertaining to be strictly true. And yet, in a smart gimmick, the movie punctuates episodes from Green's saga with actual news footage from the era - we know the footage is real because one of the beat reporters is young Brian Ross, now an old-timer with ABC News.
Green lives by a violent code, and, unlike the characters currently inhabited by too-cute-to-kill stars like Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper and Jake Gyllenhaal, dies by it. You call your movie "Kill the Irishman" you've got your work and obligations clearly cut out for you.