We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – The General

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of


We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film

 

The General

(John Boorman, 1998)

‘…  the quiet, restrained cinematography and direction on-screen makes for something that is truly a work of art …’

Brain Lloyd

The biography of Martin Cahill, one of Ireland’s most notorious criminals, was an instant bestseller. Naturally, a film adaptation beckoned. The story follows, for the most part, a dramatisation of Cahill’s exploits with fascinating detail. From his fiendishly clever robbery of Arthur Beit’s paintings to outfoxing the police with vandalism and humour, John Boorman’s black-and-white camera captured it all. However, the film wasn’t all hijinks and one-liners. The film’s tone felt like it could turn dark and violent at any point – as it was, undoubtedly, in reality.

 

The film’s quality was anchored by Brendan Gleeson’s power-house performance. Brilliantly mimicking Cahill’s wit and cunning, as well as his Dublin drawl, he carries the film and makes us root for him – even when we know how ruthless he truly was. However, his adversary throughout – Jon Voight – brings the film down in his unconvincing role as Ned Kenny. However, the film isn’t about Cahill versus the police, or even Cahill versus the system – as he often believed himself to be. The General tells the story of a criminal and his eventual downfall, the hubris that overtakes him and in the end, his acceptance of his fate.

 

‘You never own things. The things own you.’

 

Boorman’s direction is calm, collected and calculated – much like Cahill himself. His choice of using black-and-white footage, as well as the jazz score by Richie Buckley, gives the film a noirish quality that one would never think could work. And yet, it strangely does. The saxophone riffs that play gently over Gleeson’s nuanced portrayal works incredibly well and is in marked contrast to other crime dramas of the time. When compared to the likes of Scorsese or even Mann, the quiet, restrained cinematography and direction on-screen makes for something that is truly a work of art. As Cahill says himself in the film, ‘I know nothin’ about art. But I know what I like.’

 

Brian Lloyd

 

 

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We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – Five Minutes of Heaven

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…


We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film

 

Five Minutes of Heaven

(Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2009)

‘… features stunning performances by two of the finest actors ever to emerge from the island of Ireland—and thus by extension, the planet Earth …’

Niall Dunne

Can a BBC-produced film directed by a German fella named Hirschbiegel be considered ‘Irish’? For the sake of this installment of the ‘We Love…’ series, let’s just say it can. Best known for the brilliant and controversial 2004 film Downfall, which dramatized the last days Hitler in Berlin, Oliver Hirschbiegel certainly did his Irish homework for 2009’s Five Minutes of Heaven, an unsentimental examination of the difficulties of forgiveness centered on the murder of a Catholic man in Lurgan during the Troubles. The film has won multiple international prizes, including the World Cinema direction and screenwriting awards at Sundance. It also features stunning performances by two of the finest actors ever to emerge from the island of Ireland—and thus by extension, the planet Earth.

Hirschbiegel based his film on the real-life experiences of Alistair Little, a former UVF hitman, and Joe Griffin, who—as a young boy in 1975—witnessed the killing of his older brother Jim at the hands of Little. Both Little, who served 13 years for the murder and now works internationally as a conflict resolution specialist, and Griffin were interviewed at length for the film, but have never met. Five Minutes imagines a rendezvous between the two men more than 30 years after the murder, and the tension the film creates in the build up to this attempted rapprochement is what makes it so special.

The film opens with a reenactment of Jim Griffin’s murder by a teenage Little and his friends. The scenes are vivid and credible, accomplished using a cast of relative unknowns. Fast-forward to 2008, and middle-aged Joe Griffin and Alistair Little—played by the very well known James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson, respectively—have agreed to meet face-to-face for the first time on a TV show exploring the possibility of reconciliation.

Nesbitt portrays Joe as a chain-smoking bundle of nerves, permanently scarred by his brother’s death, resentful of Little’s reformation and his success as a world-travelled counselor to men of violence. He plays along with the TV producers and their Oprah-inspired desires to capture ‘the truth’ about his feelings on tape. But we find out quickly enough that he’s not there to provide Little with a final act in his ‘journey towards a magnificent redemption.’ Revenge, not reconciliation, will be Joe’s five minutes of heaven.

Neeson’s Little appears to be the polar opposite of Joe: all quiet and calm and self knowing. He speaks eloquently of his past crime, his shame, and his current mission to prevent other young men from falling in with gangs and terrorist groups. And somehow he knows that Joe’s not there to make peace, but he wants to see him nonetheless—we presume in order to help Joe move on.

“Time will heal they say… what everybody says about everything. The years just get heavier.Why don’t they tell you that? Nobody tells you that!”

And so the pieces are set in play, and the tension mounts as the meeting draws closer and closer. Thanks to Hirschbiegel’s expert documentary -style direction, Guy Hibbert’s intelligent (and at times very funny) script, and the commitment of Nesbitt and Neeson to their characters, that tension never lets up either—even when it’s revealed that Little is not a tower of strength at all but a sad, broken man, consumed by guilt, and Joe’s resolve to kill him starts to break.

There are no soap opera moments in Five Minutes. When the two finally meet—alone, far away from prying eyes—the confrontation is messy and nearly devoid of catharsis. In the end, it’s a glance of unconditional love from his daughter that helps Joe start the healing process. The final moment of resolution between Griffin and Little (a three-second mobile phone call) is about as un-Oprah as you can get.

Five Minutes is an impressive achievement and certainly one of my favorite Irish films in recent memory. By focusing on the deeply human tragedies and struggles of both protagonists, it avoids getting bogged down in partisanship or political name-calling—always a danger when tackling such complex subject matter. The film is not without its flaws. For instance, the bit about Joe’s mother placing the blame entirely on him for not doing anything to save Jim on that fateful night doesn’t ring true. It’s also a little implausible that no one in the TV crew notices Joe carrying around a machete in his underpants. Ultimately, however, the amazing performances of Nesbitt and Neeson help you to forget the imperfections and drive home the point that there are no easy fixes on the road to reconciliation.

Niall Dunne

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We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – The Guard

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…


We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film

 

The Guard

(John Michael McDonagh, 2011)

‘… the movie correctly wraps itself around Gleeson, whose deadpan delivery of his subversive, and often shocking, sense of humour powers the film along…’

Rory Cashin

It is just me, or were most Irish movies completely devoid of fun? That’s not to say they were bad, but they weren’t exactly a joy to watch, since they were usually awash with the Troubles or dealing with some kind of abuse. We were the frontrunners when it came to making depression porn. But then the McDonagh brothers came along with their one-two punch of In Bruges (which, despite all the Irish-ness involved, can’t really be labelled an Irish film) and The Guard (which, thankfully, can).

Also delivering a killer one-two was Brendan Gleeson, who helped ground In Bruges, but is primarily the main reason The Guard soars so highly, with ‘high’ being the operative word, as we’re first introduced to his Sergeant Gerry Boyle taking acid which he has taken from the pocket of a very recently deceased car-crash victim. His racist, alcoholic, drug-taking, prostitute-loving, IRA-dealing character is so all consuming that it takes a repeat viewing to be reminded that the movie also features such usual heavyweights such as Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong.

Now then, what have we here…

While the international cocaine smuggling ring plot seems like a take-it-or-leave-it afterthought, the movie correctly wraps itself around Gleeson, whose deadpan delivery of his subversive, and often shocking, sense of humour powers the film along, as his unwanted FBI partner Cheadle interrogates the locals, who respond with an Irish interpretation of what we think America thinks of Ireland, all impenetrable accents, unending rainfall and unquenchable thirsts for alcohol.

While it’s not all played for laughs (Boyle’s interactions with his dying mother are quietly heart-breaking), the film knows not to stay too serious for too long, and at 96 minutes, it’s not around long enough to outstay its welcome. Which is another nice change of pace for Irish film, or as the Sergeant would put it, ‘They take too long getting to the fecking point.’

Rory Cashin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRsMLuCP8a0

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We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – Hunger

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…


We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film

 

Hunger

(Steve McQueen, 2008)

‘… without doubt the finest art film this island has ever produced…’

David Neary

Irish history is bursting with stories to be told, but a lack of imagination and, more crucially, funding, has always held our filmmakers back, leaving Ireland to play a surrogate landscape for the histories of Britain. Ireland’s one proper historical epic, Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, suffered from the same Civil War politics that still dampen discourse to this day. In order to make a truly great film about Irish politics, it was always going to take a filmmaker divorced from that world.

Experimental London artist Steve McQueen had made several short art films, projected in such esteemed spaces as the Tate Modern and MoMA, before his first feature film Hunger was released in 2008. A Film4 production co-financed with Irish and Northern Irish money, Hunger was written by Enda Walsh, the man behind Disco Pigs. With Walsh’s powerful, balanced screenplay and McQueen’s sensational, bold filmmaking, Hunger is without doubt the finest art film this island has ever produced.

More of an experiment with the possibilities of the camera than a political eulogy, McQueen’s film is a biopic-of-sorts of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, during his final months in the Maze Prison in 1980/81. While not arguing for or against the politics of the IRA or the British role in Northern Ireland, Hunger instead looks at what men will do for a cause they believe; to themselves and to others.

The film is slow, contemplative and utterly intense. From the beautiful yet ghastly art of a faeces-smeared prison wall and the gradual wasting away of Sands’s body, to the fumbled lighting of a cigarette by bloodied hands and the slow, haunting, hypnotic washing of a prison floor, Hunger is a feast for the eyes and the mind from start to finish.

I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world

In a revelatory, career-launching performance, Michael Fassbender plays Sands with an unexpected intensity the actor has since become a worldwide sensation for, even unleashing his trademark grin as the weakened Sands begins to feel a sense of victory in his draining life. Throwing a mirror up to Sands, Stuart Graham portrays prison officer Raymond Lohan as a similarly weakened shell of a man, disillusioned with the horrors he has witnessed and must enforce.

Since its release, Hunger has become most famous for its exhausting single-take sequence in which Sands debates his fate and the morality of his actions with Liam Cunningham’s priest, but the shot that sticks with you comes in a deathbed flashback as Sands recalls a life-altering childhood trip, and the camera is blinded by a beam of sunlight blasting through a bus window.

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We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – The Dead

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…


We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film

 

The Dead

(John Huston, 1987)

‘… a warm and wonderfully crafted film…’

Daire Walsh

 

25 years ago, when Film Ireland was in its infancy, John Huston’s
final film, The Dead, was enjoying a Christmas-time release, four
months on from the sad passing of its legendary director. Adapted from
the James Joyce story of the same name (it has featured in the
acclaimed Irish writer’s short works collection Dubliners), The Dead
was Huston’s 37th feature film as a director, and came just two years
after his final Academy Award® nomination for Prizzi’s Honor.

With a brief running time of 83 minutes, and a short text source that
effectively confines the drama to a series of extended scenes, it
would have been easy for The Dead to be viewed as an incidental entry
in John Huston’s extensive body of work.

However, despite having to battle serious health issues while making
the film (he was aided by an oxygen tube hanging from his nose),
Huston produced something special, which has stood the test of time in
the intervening years, becoming one of the best Irish films of the
modern age.

Written by Huston’s own son, Tony Huston (an Oscar® nominee the
following spring), The Dead takes place in 1904 Dublin at an Epiphany
party held by two elderly sisters. It is in many ways an ensemble
piece, though the main focus does fall upon Donal McCann’s academic
Gabriel Conroy, and his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston), who is
harbouring painful memories of a deceased former lover.

Going by this general synopsis, one could be forgiven for wondering
where Huston was going to be able to find enough material to make The
Dead work as a feature length effort. Of course, it could be argued
that this was no bad thing, as Joyce’s work has proven to be
incredibly difficult to adapt down through the years, and the easier
it is to understand his treatments, the better it will be for those
who are attempting to bring his unique mind onto the silver screen.

Certainly, though there are a few close contenders, The Dead has been
firmly established as the best cinematic depiction of Joyce’s work,
and there are a number of reasons for this. First of all, there are
the performances. The late, great McCann and Huston hold the film
together beautifully, bringing real gravitas to the proceedings, with
Donal Donnelly (who would go on to appear in The Godfather Part III
before sadly passing away in 2010) on prime scene-stealing form as the
alcoholic Freddy Malins, who is desperately trying to appear
respectable in the presence of his mother.

Dan O’Herlihy brings Mr. Browne fabulously to life in the same year
that he appeared in Paul Verhoeven’s seminal sci-fi classic RoboCop,
and there is also an early role for future Star Trek star Colm Meaney.
Perhaps the most surprising performance comes courtesy of tenor Frank
Patterson, who plays baritone Bartell D’Arcy, but finds himself having
to take part in the drama itself, and coping exceptionally well in the
process.

One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.’

 

From the point of view of production design, the work done by Stephen
Grimes and Dennis Washington is flawless, and the Oscar®-nominated
costume design by Dorothy Jeakins is also to be lauded.
Cinematographer Fred Murphy (whose work can currently be seen on TV’s
The Good Wife) generates great mood and atmosphere as he moves back
and forth between various characters, and Alex North breathes fresh
vigour into the story with his musical composition.

Yet, when it boils down to it, this film belongs to John Huston in
every way possible. For the man who was the mastermind of such
incredible films like The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen and The
Man Who Would Be King to produce a such a warm and wonderfully crafted
film at a very late point in his career was truly remarkable.

Comedy had never really been Huston’s forte throughout his career, but
many of the scenes in The Dead are laced with humour, especially the
ones that feature Donnelly, and despite the problems he was going
through during the course of filming, it was clear that Huston was
aiming to venture into areas that he had not encountered before.

The way that Huston blended the comedic elements and dramatic elements
of the story together fitted perfectly with the aesthetic of the film,
and though this was a different kind of John Huston film, it was in
fact one that was very close to his heart.

As an adopted Irish citizen, and a fan of classic literature, Huston
finally got a chance to show his love of both worlds. Many personal
projects by directors tend to fail due to the over-inflated hubris of
the director, but The Dead avoids falling into this trap, and is in no
way portentous, despite the reputation that both Huston and Joyce have
in their respective fields.

As a film, The Dead is probably not to everyone’s taste, and doesn’t
aim to offer the same sort of thrills of Huston’s earlier films, but
you will struggle to find many better made Irish films over the past
25 years, or indeed in years to come.

 

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We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – The Crying Game

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…


We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film

 

The Crying Game

(Neil Jordan)

‘… not only keeps the audience guessing amidst twists and turns, but also engages our emotions and makes us care about each character…’

Ciara O’Brien

We in Ireland, we have a lot to be proud of. From our rich food and drink culture, to the proud ownership of the uncoordinated one from One Direction, we have it all. Yet somehow our rich literature and film history is often overlooked. So, being Film Ireland’s 25th anniversary, we have taken it upon ourselves to celebrate what we feel are the very best examples of Irish filmmaking of the last 25 years.

I should confess early on here to being a bit of a Neil Jordan fan-girl. Upon hearing he was filming Byzantine in my hometown recently, I may or may not have taken to driving the long way home every night just in case they needed a battered Opel Corsa for their next scene. For me, there is something both transformative and recognizably Irish about the way in which Jordan presents film. From Anne Rice’s vampiric duo to a recovering alcoholic fisherman regaling his ailing daughter with fairytales, there is something quintessentially Irish about each of his works. Jordan regularly takes an Irish tale and transforms it into something that can translate anywhere. He makes the local tale a universal one. My choice for ‘We Love…’, The Crying Game, is a prime example of this gift.

The Crying Game follows the twists and turns of Fergus, played by the ever-present Stephen Rea. Fergus, an IRA volunteer who inadvertently strikes up an unlikely friendship with captured British Army giant Jody, played by Forest Whitaker. A hostage situation gone horribly wrong in every way causes Fergus to flee, changing his name to ‘Jimmy’ and seeking out Jody’s lover, Dil. Fergus is immediately taken with Dil, and begins seeing her under his new identity, revealing nothing about his IRA past. Unfortunately for Fergus, he is not the only one carrying a secret. There is something about Dil that Fergus doesn’t know, and the reveal is as jarring to the audience as it is to Fergus himself (unless a certain infamous line from Father Ted gave it away).

Do you come here often?

Released in 1992 amidst a flurry of controversy, The Crying Game is Irish filmmaking at its finest, engaging both Irish and worldwide audiences. The Crying Game is a rare example of a movie that not only keeps the audience guessing amidst twists and turns, but also engages our emotions and makes us care about each character. This ability to never quite reveal all until the last possible moment is something Jordan has perfected, and we saw him utilize it more recently in Ondine. Jordan is a master at having his audience engaged in one story for 90 minutes, only to later reveal that the story is about something else entirely. Somehow, we are positioned alongside our protagonist, Fergus and by ensuring our identification with him, the twist manages to never alienate the audience. We follow Fergus throughout his struggles, and we experience as much of his existential crisis as possible. For 108 minutes, we are Fergus.

The Crying Game deserves to be heralded as one of the finest Irish films of the last 25 years. It is the kind of film that leaves moviegoers talking amongst themselves for days. This, for me, is what cinema is all about, and what positions Neil Jordan in my list of favorite directors and writers.

I’ll leave you with the infamous words:
‘Careful now’.

Ciara O’Brien

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