Business is booming
YOU WOULDN’T be out of line if you described the latest Ken Loach film as a thriller. Following an ex-squaddie as he investigates the death of his pal in Iraq, Route Irish features more narrative tangles than a post-Watergate conspiracy drama. Cars are bugged; men wearing suits lurk in doorways. Yet there’s no mistaking the film’s parentage. Loach’s invigorating Marxist anger burns through every frame.
Featuring many flashbacks, Route Irish concerns the killing of Frankie (comic John Bishop, who makes an excellent straight man), a British “private security consultant” – that’s a mercenary to you, me and Noam Chomsky – on the road out of Baghdad Airport. Back home in Liverpool, former SAS man Fergus (Mark Womack) begins probing into the relevant security firm’s worrying disregard for everyday morality. He feels particularly guilty, because he persuaded his friend to take the lucrative job.
A video is discovered on Frankie’s phone showing an entire Iraqi family being murdered in mysterious circumstances. The lads’ increasingly sinister employers (they might as well be called Evil Capitalist Stooge Inc) offer an explanation, but Mark is well on his way to uncovering a despicable plot.
Though the publicity material suggests otherwise, Route Irish takes place almost entirely in Liverpool. Using skills learnt in the SAS, Fergus proves more than a match for his complacent enemies.
Working with writer Paul Laverty, now his most regular collaborator, Loach lucidly demonstrates how private interests have taken over the occupation of Iraq. If war is a business, then the harshest dictates of capitalism are the only rules worth applying.
If only the mechanics of the picture were as effective as its clear-headed political arguments. Too many of Fergus’s techniques seem roughly, incongruously dragged from a bad James Bond novel. A faintly ridiculous water-boarding sequence provokes more groans than wails of outrage. Much of the dialogue would seem clunky in an instalment of The Fast and the Furious.
For all that, Route Irish remains a modestly gripping slice of political melodrama. And now more than ever, audiences need a good metaphorical clip round the ear with a rolled up copy of the Morning Star.
Readers searching for belated St Patrick’s Day fun should be aware that, the name of that thoroughfare aside, Route Irish has nothing to do with the old country. Unless we’re allowed to claim Liverpool. Are we? THERE IS, in hell, a special corner set aside for useless British comedies. It’s not that they’re so much worse than their American equivalents. They’re just bad in a very particular way. Laid low by a hostility to ambition, humbled by conspicuous lack of glamour, they wander grimly around the streets in dressing gowns clutching cups of cooling tea. Look, it’s Black Ball, that crown-green bowling thing with Paul Kaye. Hide – it’s the supernaturally dreadful Three and Out. If we hang around too long, It’s aWonderful Afterlife might turn up.
Let’s be fair. Chalet Girl is not the worst of the bunch. If The Boat That Rocked was powering down in the street, you’d happily – well, fairly happily – escape in a car driven by Phil Traill’s only modestly terrible film.
This is one of those films that has sprung from an idle observation on a minor cultural phenomenon. “Hey, what about those girls who travel to Switzerland to service chalets for rich skiers. There’s a good film in that. Isn’t there?” Well, there may well be. But Mr Traill has not directed it.
Confirming British comedy’s unrepentant obsession with class, the film casts Felicity Jones as an ordinary girl who, having lost her job at the supermarket, points Dad to the TV dinners and makes for the lucrative slopes. Before long, she has encountered the snobbish co-worker who – as sure as Bill Nighy’s the louche boss – will eventually come to be a friend.
Before that happens, Felicity will have to fall in love with a posh bloke and, after overcoming a fear of heights picked up during her mother’s fatal car crash, win the big prize at some horrible downhill event.
The actors look uncomfortable, the script is entirely composed of clichés, and the production design would shame the makers of a sofa commercial. Still, Bill Bailey is quite funny as Jones’s dad. So, for that alone, Chalet Girl sits one step above Kevin and Perry Go Large.
The downward slope: Felicity Jones