Thursday, April 15, 2004
An often funny, always surprising ensemble piece with a bit of a nasty streak, Intermission might not be to everyone’s taste. It has a large cast of contemporary Dubliners to keep track of, none of them any too genteel in their speech, and frequent outbursts of disaffected rage. But beneath its flinty exterior, Intermission offers a shrewd, even warm-hearted exploration into the ways we interact, and the unexpected impact we can have on each other’s lives.
The film embraces the all-for-one principle of ensemble theater. Director John Crowley is a longtime theatrical director in Ireland and Britain, and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe is a celebrated young Dublin playwright. Instead of telling their story with the traditional pyramid of protagonist and supporting characters, O’Rowe and Crowley construct a seesaw of characters of equal weight and importance; with a truly global sense of unity, any one of them at any moment might radically shift the balance of the whole by the most minute or random act.
In the audacious opening, glib Irishman Lehiff (Colin Farrell), a petty thief with a yen for kitchen appliances, is chatting up a shopgirl—a familiar enough scene, until the filmmakers adroitly pull out the rug. “You just never know what might happen,” purrs Lehiff, which may as well be the mantra of the film. Meanwhile, permanently disgruntled bus driver Mick (Brian F. O’Byrne) is snarling his way through another day behind the wheel. And young supermart stock clerks John (Cillian Murphy) and his buddy Oscar (David Wilmot) are bemoaning the state of their romantic lives.
It’s John’s harebrained idea to take an “intermission” from his erstwhile girlfriend, Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald) that sends the first shudder through the seesaw plot. Having suggested a breakup to “test” her loyalty, to which she reluctantly agrees, he’s now on his own and still desperately in love. Oscar, who’s too shy to approach a real woman, resorts unhappily to sex videos. Deirdre, on the rebound, hooks up with a more mature, reliable man, bank manager Sam (Michael McElhatton)—who also happens to be slightly married. When the wife he abandons, Noeleen (Deirdre O’Kane) begs to know what she’s done wrong, he coldly tells her she doesn’t “come into the equation” at all. So angry she flunks out of self-esteem class, Noeleen lets her girlfriend drag her to the same geriatric singles club to which the desperate Oscar drags John.
Meanwhile, Ben (Tom O’Sullivan), an ambitious young TV producer, longs to make hard-hitting documentaries exposing the “dark underbelly” of modern life. He starts filming Jerry (Colm Meany), a tough plainclothes cop with an affinity for “Celtic mysticism” music, whose crime-stopping strategy is “hate your opponent.” The opponent he hates most is Lehiff, whom Jerry stalks obsessively, while Lehiff in turn stalks Sam and Deirdre, cooking up a crime scheme to keep himself in woks and microwaves for life.
There is just enough potential for violence in these stories to keep us on edge, from the gun waved about by an inept would-be criminal to the little boy who heaves rocks at passing vehicles for no reason. Yet the filmmakers play with notions of toughness, carrying them to absurd extremes. Everyone brawls: Jerry itching for any excuse to go “hand-to-hand” with criminals, John and Oscar grappling in the market, taking out their disappointments on each other, Noeleen tussling with her girlfriend (a prelude to her grudge match with Sam). Even two banged-up guys in wheelchairs in the pub have to prove who’s most macho with a race.
Intermission doesn’t have quite the freewheeling zing of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch.
But the characters are much more fully drawn, and the female voices are
especially strong. Noeleen finally confronts Sam after acting out her
comic rage on shopgirls, classmates, and the new lover she scares off
with her aggressive antics in bed. Poignantly pushy older women in the
singles club hopefully refer to themselves as “sporty.” Deirdre’s
sullen hard-luck sister (Shirley Henderson) and their stoic widowed mum
(Ger Ryan) discover common ground in their ability to survive. With its
appealing ensemble actors and sly, savvy design, Intermission aims high and hits its marks most of the time.
Intermisson [3 Stars]
Directed by John Crowley
Starring Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, Kelly Macdonald, and Colm Meany.
(Rated R, 106 mins.)