Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Horrifying, riveting, shocking': TV3 Gangsters at War review

Special Correspondent with INM, Paul Williams
Special Correspondent with INM, Paul Williams
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Gangsters at War, Paul Williams’ new documentary which aired tonight on TV3, told a fairly remarkable, though sadly familiar, tale: of crime, violence, horror and – always, always the ultimate motive – greed.

The story of the current Kinahan-Hutch feud is horrifying, riveting, shocking. It’s like Goodfellas or The Departed, with the added bite of knowing that this stuff is actually happening, it has happened, and unfortunately it will, in all likelihood, continue to happen.

You want to look away but don’t want to. You want to look away but can’t. You don’t want to know but need to know. It’s hard to look away once you get sucked into this life-or-death drama that’s realer than real.

Even the characters are larger-than-life, in that horribly compelling, crime-boss sort of way. On one side we have Gerry “The Monk” Hutch: ascetic, “respectable”, taciturn, mysterious. On the other side Christy Kinahan, who fits all those cinematic clichés of the gangster: stylish, charismatic, living the good life abroad.

And in the middle, a hell of an unholy mess: public executions, armed gardai on Dublin streets, innocents murdered, fantastical footage on YouTube, ostentatious public funerals which are like something you’d see in Godfather-era New York.

We began with the recent shooting at the Regency, wherein Kinahan foot-soldier David Byrne was killed but the crime lord’s son Daniel – the main target – escaped. A few days later, Kinahan’s gang retaliated in kind, killing the Monk’s brother. Further deaths are expected – but the roots of all this bloodletting stretch right back to the early 1990s.

Using a nice balance of footage, voiceover and talking heads, Williams brought us through the main events and main players: Hutch and Kinahan’s childhoods and fledgling criminal careers, the IRA execution of Martin Cahill, the rise and fall of John Gilligan, Veronica Guerin’s murder, CAB breaking that generation of criminals, Hutch claiming to go legit, Kinahan building a drug-trafficking empire.

The actual spark for this feud was an attempt by Gary Hutch, the Monk’s nephew, to kill Daniel Kinahan in a row over money. It failed; Hutch became a marked man. The Monk paid a sort of “ransom” to save his life. The Kinahans took the money and killed Gary Hutch anyway. They also tried to kill the Monk himself in January.

Hence the Regency Hotel counter-attack, and the counter-counter which led to Eddie Hutch, brother of Gerry, being shot dead.

Confusing? Yes, but Williams – a veteran crime reporter with this and other newspapers – made it all comprehensible. (Or at least, as comprehensible as is possible when dealing with a group of mobsters, yahoos and borderline sociopaths.)

There’s something of a stereotype of Williams as a gung-ho shock-merchant, but that’s a bit unfair. He’s a reporter, plain and simple. Of course the material he delivers is sometimes shocking and grotesque – these are shocking and grotesque deeds and people.

And Gangsters at War, as it happens, was quite sober and reflective. We had thoughtful contributions from ex-CAB boss Felix McKenna, Detective Chief Super Michael O’Sullivan of the new Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau, and DIT criminologist Matt Bowden.

Production values were top-class. All the relevant information was delivered – without feeling the need to over-egg the pudding or over-dramatise matters. (As an aside, the soundtrack was also super-cool, as were the Breaking Bad-style credits.)

My only criticism is that the show didn’t really tell us anything we wouldn’t already know from reading the last fortnight’s coverage. But TV3 deserve kudos for pulling together such a professional production at extremely short notice.

And as a truncated history of Irish organised crime, a handy précis of the current state of play and a work of TV entertainment, it did the job just fine.

Online Editors

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