When someone mentions the Mafia in America, chances are you think of the Italian Mafia. They certainly have the most movies made about them, although the Irish mob has been around longer, evolving from street gangs in the early 1900's. However, if you're talking about Boston, or Hell's Kitchen, it's typically the Irish that get the focus. While there are some truly great films about the Irish mob, the Irish mob doesn't have a "The Godfather," yet, although perhaps Scorsese tried to provide one with "Gangs of New York" It's only a matter of time though, as the Irish mob presents too many story possibilities to be ignored. Since it's St. Patrick's Day, here are ten films I think are worth a look.
Based on the story of Danny Greene, (Ray Stevenson) a low level Irish thug in Cleveland, who makes a sort of rise to power starting with a local union. Greene is a hothead who looks out for his friends and takes care of his own neighborhood. He refuses to play by the local mob rules, quickly setting off a number of assassination attempts.It's worth a watch just for Ray Stevenson's wonderfully entertaining performance as a guy who won't be cowed by anyone, at least not while he's alive. Greene goes to work for Jewish mobster, Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken) and crosses paths with cop, Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer) who grew up in the same place. Maybe you can kill him, but you'll sure have to work for it.
"Gangs of NY" is the only Scorsese film that I didn't care for at all. While it's certainly a sweeping look at the Irish street gangs that would evolve into the Irish mob, I found the characterizations way too over the top to be believable, as if it was meant to be a musical but then lost the music routines. The single biggest problem is the incredible mismatch between the protagonist, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis.) Lewis of course does an amazing job making his character monstrous and formidable, while Dicaprio comes across like a slight little boy that should't be able to take on Bill even armed with all the luck in the world. It's an ambitious film, and I like what it was trying for, but if the characters don't work, I can't really get into the story.
Connor (Sean Patrick Flannery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) MacManus are two Irish brothers seek to avoid "the indifference of good men." They run into a conflict with some Russian mobsters out to kill them and discover what they feel to be a new calling, ridding Boston of "sinners" (which includes more Russian mobsters.) They come up with their own calling card, and say a prayer while they do the Lord's work, "And shepherds we shall be, for Thee, my Lord, for Thee. Power hath descended forth from Thy hand, That our feet may swiftly carry out Thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to Thee And teeming with souls shall it ever be. In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spirits Sancti." Their murder spree is investigated by FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) who tries to track them down as they intersect with another killer, "Il Duce" (Billy Connolly) who ends up having something in common with them.
Michael Sullivan Sr. (Tom Hanks) is an efficient hitman who was taken in at a young age by Irish mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) Rooney's biological son Connor, (Daniel Craig) isn't happy with Sullivan's favored status and believes himself untouchable because of his father. Connor's reckless actions on a business outing with Sullivan are witnessed by Sullivan's young son, Michael Jr., who snuck in the car to see what his father does. Connor is paranoid that his actions will come out and he kills Sullivan's whole family only missing Michael Sr. and Michael Jr. When John Rooney is unwilling to take action on Michael's behalf, Michael takes his son on a road trip to go over Rooey's head to get revenge for his family.
Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) is a cop sent back to his home town in Hell's Kitchen, NY to infiltrate the Irish mob headed by Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris.) Frankie's brother Jackie (Gary Oldman) is an old friend and helps Terry get set up. Terry also starts seeing Kathleen (Robin Wright) the Flannery's sister, complicating the arrangement considerably. Also complicating things, is Jackie's psychotic behavior. He kills three members of an Italian gang, damaging his brother's business arrangements. Terry's loyalties are tested by enmity between the brothers and his police assignment soon becomes a relatively minor concern.
Several films were made covering the life of Irish crime figure Martin Cahill, and "The General" is easily the best of them. Directed by John Boorman who was a real life victim of one of Cahill's (Brendan Gleeson) heists, it begins with his assassination and then goes back to cover his life up to that point, starting with growing up in the slums. He picks up a theft habit at an early age to provide for his family and his heists only get bolder in time, undaunted by arrests and incarceration. He's pursued by police Inspector Ned Kinney (Jon Voight) who can't understand why Cahill doesn't leave his neighborhood. The police however, aren't his biggest problem, as he finds out when a certain heist puts him on the wrong side of the IRA.
Word on the street is that Francis Sullivan's (Ed Burns) brother Sean (Elijah Wood) is back in town. This upsets some people as he was supposed to be dead for a reason, he killed some members of the local mafia and his return could start a war. Of course Sean's return upsets arrangements with his supposed widow, Grace (Rosario Dawson) who also has to reevaluate things. If Sean is alive, Francis needs to find out why and get him to disappear again before the handles it their own way. Guys with guns are closing in from all sides and the Sullivan brothers as well as everyone around them need to make some serious choices if they want to stay alive..
Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are two hit men sent to visit Bruges by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who imagines it as the ideal place to have a relaxing vacation. Ray made a mistake on his last job accidentally killing a kid, which goes against Harry's code. Ray and Ken discuss this situation and investigate local culture until Ken gets word on his next hit, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. However his plan is changed a bit when he not only doesn't do the job, but feels compelled to stop Ray from committing suicide. Harry decides to get personally involved as his code is very important to him leading to one of the most interesting and darkly comic face off scenes I can remember.
Billy, (Leonardo DiCaprio) an undercover cop infiltrates the Irish mafia, while Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) a mobster in training, infiltrates the police force. Both of their efforts are centered around Mafia leader Frank Costello. (Jack Nicholson) Both sides are aware that someone among them is working for the other side, and each must try to find the other before being exposed himself. Costello proves himself a force to be reckoned with and both undercover guys are forced to take big risks and decide what's most important to them, which gets tougher when the both fall for the same woman.
Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a has been ex boxer who listened to his brother Charlie (Rod Steiger) too closely, taking dives and making himself a joke. Charlie is closely tied to Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) an Irish mob boss who controls everything that happens on the docks, including who works and who doesn't. When Friendly has Terry call an old friend outside to have a talk with his men, Terry is surprised when his friend falls off the roof to his death. He starts questioning what he's doing and his qualms are pushed forward by local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden) and Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) the sister of the man he lured to his death. Their efforts to make a difference struggle against the dock workers commitment to silence and Terry realizes if he's to make a stand it will be on his own.