Thin­ner than wa­ter

Loads of tal­ent barely en­liven this ho-hum ca­per, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Comedy -

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

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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)

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