Thinner than water
Loads of talent barely enliven this ho-hum caper, writes Donald Clarke
AT ANY chosen point in time, some apprentice Irish writer (male, most likely) is completing a script about a young layabout who has to get a certain amount of money to a certain comedy crime boss within a certain time frame (or else).
The glut has been underway for about a decade and a half. Each such script will feature at least one supposedly amusing pair of comedy heavies whose banter follows the beats of Tarantino’s early imperishable duologues. An unconvincing female character – plucky neighbour or scolding girlfriend – will, the finished result suggests, have been crudely grafted onto the structure in a third or fourth draft, but the script will retain its unmistakable testosterone watermark. A few of these scripts will get made into films.
Though the plots of Paddy Breathnach’s I Went Down and John Crowley’s Intermission
wavered from the above template, the films’ witty, scabrous scripts (by Conor McPherson and Mark O’Rowe, respectively) were partly responsible for maintaining the great angry-hoodlum gold rush.
Puzzlingly, Mark O’Rowe, a playwright of some note and writer of the excellent TV movie Boy A, has elected to deliver an archetypal example of the form for this competent but ultimately disappointing Dublin crime thriller. Despite decent performances from a classy cast, Perrier’s Bounty confirms that the format has calcified into a weary cliché without becoming a workable genre along the way. The film may have some limited commercial potential, but, that aside, it’s hard to see why the talent involved bothered.
Cillian Murphy plays a young fellow named Michael McCrea who finds himself in debt (check) to a slightly absurd crime boss (check) named Perrier (Brendan Gleeson). Things get worse. Michael’s gravely ill dad (Jim Broadbent) turns up to make life uncomfortable and his plucky female neighbour (check), played by Jodie Whittaker, quasiaccidentally sends one of Perrier’s goons to a better place.
After a further series of imperfectly connected incidents, the three principals find themselves pottering about the mountains in a state of growing distress and irritation while Perrier and his mob fume in a distant warehouse.
It would hardly be possible to put such a cast before the camera without generating the odd diverting spark. Murphy’s reliable charm and Gleeson’s stalwart commitment invest their stock characters with a modicum of original energy. Sadly, Broadbent lets himself down with a staggeringly dreadful Dublin accent, but his trademark oddness remains an asset to any production.
All the actors, however, struggle somewhat with the distinctly peculiar dialogue. O’Rowe has justifiably been praised for devising singularly brilliant, deliciously profane language for such plays as Howie the Rookie and From Both Hips. Here, in a less heightened universe, the sub-Mamet repetitions and blank-poetic diversions seem mannered to the point of absurdity.
For some reason, Gleeson’s character is saddled with a need to end every sentence – maybe every clause – with a superfluous and deadeningly arrhythmic “man”. Are we striving for an archaic class of beret-clad hip? Instead, one imagines Jeremy Clarkson trying to seem “with-it” while talking to a voguish pop star.
If the language is a little too mannered, the plot is a little too conventional. A structure that may have seemed moderately fresh a decade ago now feels as stale as very ancient socks. Indeed, the entire enterprise, marshalled with uncomplicated discipline by Ian Fitzgibbon, director of A Film With Me In It and Spin the Bottle, comes across as distinctly old-fashioned.
For example, what’s with the decision to have a female character casually romp across the set with her top off? Remembering the dubious sexual politics of 1970s television, one half expects John Thaw, star of The Sweeney, to pop up and bark: “Oi darling. Put your knickers on and make us a cup of tea.”
Had Perrier’s Bounty been constructed by a team of unknowns, it would, to be fair, seem like a reasonably promising piece of work. But Fitzgibbon, O’Rowe and the superb cast are all old enough and smart enough to know they are capable of more ambitious work than this.
Oi, lads. Put your knickers on and knock us up a proper bleeding film. THIS SLOW, ritualistic, but undeniably fascinating French drama concerning pilgrims to the shrine at Lourdes is, ultimately, a bracingly cynical piece of work.
The surprise is that it’s not cynical about faith, organised religion or (despite our suspicions about the film-maker’s disbelief) the possibility of divine intervention. Lourdes is, rather, pessimistic about how people react to their fellow citizens’ good fortune. When something a little like a miracle eventually manifests itself, the response – from those not apparently healed – is resentment, suspicion and confusion.
Sylvie Testud from La Vie en Rose stars as Christine, a curiously uninvolved young woman with multiple sclerosis. Utilising a colour scheme that stresses the blue of the Virgin Mary and the red of the Order of Malta, the film propels young Christine around a series of enormous Masses, grim parties and visits to the sacred shrine.
Not much happens in the opening hour, but Jessica Hausner, the Austrian director of Lovely Rita, conveys an impressive sense of place. Both the antique grandeur and the sleazy commercialism of Lourdes come across very powerfully.
Equally impressive (and bleaker still) is the film’s depiction of the disabled pilgrims’ social lives. The uninterested nurses and bewildered clerics are never exactly neglectful of their charges. But their gruesome, patronising attempts to stage celebrations remind us quite how joyless the Catholic Church’s notion of (shudder) “fun” so often is. Yes, paper chains are in evidence.
None of this is, however, to imply that Lourdes is a work of satire. Though the film has its sour moments, it is mostly notable for the sober, non-judgmental way it addresses a uniquely odd, curiously resilient institution.
The area’s tourist authorities are unlikely to enjoy Lourdes, but they should be aware that, in a meaner director’s hands, the film could have been a great deal more caustic. Mind you, nobody is likely to mistake it for The Song of Bernadette.
The gang’s all here: Brendan Gleeson (centre)