Movie Review
Intermission
2004
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Kelly Macdonald, Colin Farrell, Colm Meany, Shirley Henderson
A-


intermission is a story about a heist, a mustache, a cop, a divorce, a bus crash, a divorce, a stolen case of Chef’s sauce and… wait a minute, no.

Intermission is a story about a struggling reality-TV producer, wronged women, downtrodden retail workers, lonely guys, kitchen furnishings, a deviant, rock-throwing kid, and… uh, no, that’s not quite it either.

Intermission is about a dozen stories going on at once that deal with roughly as many peoples’ lives and how they intertwine and sometimes explosively collide. If it sounds confusing, I assure you that it’s not, but there’s so damn much going on in this movie that it makes summarizing it neatly a near impossible task. But I’ll do my best.

Intermission is a story about love; how some people long for it and how others completely bollox it up. Take John (Cillian Murphy), for example. John is a retail worker who, when he isn’t downing pints and brown sauce sandwiches at the pub or drinking brown sauce-laced tea while dodging his sadistic boss with pal and fellow stock boy Oscar (David Wilmot), is having the kind of relationship lonely Oscar only dreams of with Dierdre (former Trainspotting jail bait Kelly Macdonald). Or so Oscar thinks. Turns out John, in a misguided attempt to divine Dierdre’s true feelings, has decided to “test the relationship” by suggesting to Dierdre that they “take some time off” from each other. Dierdre, in a move any self-respecting woman would make, immediately takes up with bank manager Sam (Michael McElhatton), a married man in the throes of mid-life crisis who is John’s opposite in every imaginable way. Astounded and confused by her apparent ability to shake him off so easily, John sets off on a quixotic quest to get Deirdre back.

On the other side of town, wayward husband Sam has decided to up and leave his wife Noeleen (Deirdre O’Kane), who after fourteen years of marriage finds herself blindsided and devastated by Sam’s seemingly out-of-the-blue decision. In an attempt at healing empowerment, Noeleen hits the singles scene where she meets a much younger man looking for love in one of the more unlikely places.

Meanwhile, bus driver Mick (Bryan O’Byrne) finds himself suddenly unemployed after a hellacious bus accident that he insists to his dubious employers and police alike was not his fault, but the fault of a rock-throwing boy who, unfortunately, nobody else witnessed. Feeling as wronged and out of luck as anyone else in this movie, he meets up with ne’er do well Lehiff (Colin Farrell) a brutish small time crook with a bank heist on his agenda, an affinity for woks and other domestic furnishings, and a need for accomplices. Waiting for Lehiff to make the grave misstep that will prove to be his undoing is comically hard-bitten and hapless detective Jerry (Colm Meaney). Jerry, a self-proclaimed lover of that odious music known as “Celtic mysticism”, is a man desperate to prove that he is the stuff of Dirty Harry movies to the world and to reality TV producer Ben (Tom O’Sullivan), a man who is equally desperate to ditch his job’s prescribed fluff reporting and expose Ireland’s seedy underbelly.

Oh, and a funny thing about that bus accident. Two of the passengers were Dierdre’s mother Maura (Ger Ryan) and sister Sally (Shirley Henderson) who took quick action and led fellow passengers out to safety. They find themselves the subject of one of Ben’s human interest stories, where much to Sally’s chagrin, she finds out as a result that she’s not exactly “TV-ready” when she spots her own mustache in the glare of the cameras. The mustache, while not exactly putting her in league with Burt Reynolds, is one of the many symptoms of Sally’s general decline after getting burned in a relationship in a way that is sure to make even the most bloodied of love’s casualties feel better about their own wounds.

And that brings us back to the theme of love, which oddly enough, doesn’t get buried under this gleeful onslaught of comic subplots and edgy mayhem. In fact, I don’t know how he does it, but director John Crowley manages to make sure absolutely nothing is lost in the tangling fray, and every character is sharply defined and their respective stories are laced together as tightly as destiny intended in the end.

Despite the potential for cinematic disaster inherent in trying to tell this many stories at once, Crowley keeps the proceedings taut and swift with machine-gun dialogue and lots of urgent, tight shots. While some might find the jittery camerawork and frequent zooms disconcerting, it couldn’t work more perfectly with a story that flips and spins constantly, urging you to stay on your toes.

I could only come up with one sour note. There is one tiny scene where sadistic supermarket boss Mr. Henderson, fond of following threats like “your ass is mine” with “as they say in the States”, who is already one shade short of over the top, kind of blows it by spewing corporate affirmations to himself in his car after work. Other than that, this movie is a piece of sublime, frantic perfection that reminded me a lot of Doug Liman’s 1999 drug-deal-gone-wrong teen caper Go, a movie I feel never received the considerable credit it was due. Perhaps this was mainly because it was released at a time when teen capers were plentiful and collectively lowering the bar, and therefore it was unfairly lumped into that category, which is a fate I fear will fall on Intermission.

While there are no shortage of multi-layered, quick cutting comedies coming out of the UK that are full of soccer hooligan swagger, casually brutish violence, and that certain kind of harsh slang we definitely don’t say in the States, it’d be wrong to assume Intermission is more of the same. Intermission manages to distinguish itself by foregoing MTV editing, willfully incomprehensible colloquialisms and a breathtaking body count in deference to (of all things) love.

Intermission is a clever, fast-paced, hard-edged romp with just enough soft spots to give it heart. It’s funny and exciting in a way that, despite its ambitious construction, doesn’t try too hard. It’s got quite the ass-kicking soundtrack too, featuring U2, Turin Brakes, Magnetic Fields and the Thrills as well as the bring-the-house-down closer of a rather Clash-y sounding Colin Farrell cover of “I Fought the Law”. Opening in Boston during the aftermath of St. Paddy’s, it was the perfect cure for our collective hangover. In fact, to quote the horny Irish leprechaun himself, “Not bad…fuckin’ delish that is!”


By: Jen Cameron
Published on: 2004-04-14
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