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IN SHORT: Damn fine filmmaking.
Irish director Neil Jordan, stunned us all and scored big a couple of years back with The Crying Game; he also successfully translated Anne Rice's Interview with The Vampire to the big screen, and managed an effective, though long, political biography in last years' Michael Collins.
This time out, the film is The Butcher Boy, [based on the novel by [Patrick McCabe]. As always , Cranky makes no comparison to source material. But you should know that, Butcher Boy was so disturbing to me that, like last year's The Ice Storm I put off writing it up for as long as I could. But here it is...
Set in a small Irish town somewheres around 1963, once you get past the accents (and that's thankfully not hard to do) you are presented with the story of 12- year-old Francie Brady (Eamonn Owens) a boy from a household so dysfunctional that nothing short of a major mental collapse can come from it.
Benny (Stephen Rea), Francie's da, is an alcoholic trumpet playing musician. His mother [Aisling O'Sullivan] suffers from suicidal spells. the boy himself creates his own fantasy world of protection, based on codes of the Old west and blood brothers and secret pledges with his best friend Joe [Alan Boyle]. The kid is also destructively obsessed with the sole authoritarian mother figure in the community, Mrs. Nugent (Fiona Shaw), who also happens to own the best TV in the town and be the mother of the one boy Francie picks on and steals comics from.
Francie's antics, I'm being kind, get him booted off to a Roman Catholic church run juvenile detention school where he hangs with and eventually leads a bad crowd, learns to manipulate a pathetic and abusive priest and has one on one conversations with the Virgin Mary (brilliantly cast with Sinead O'Connor) who just eggs him on. When he finally wins his release by politically manipulating the system at the school, he returns to town to find that his blood brother has taken up with his worst enemy, and that this new pairing has been sent off to a better school. Francie is left with no opportunity other than to look after his fast failing father and take the only job open to him -- putting him in a class equivalent to the legendary Untouchables of India.
Eamonn Owens is an astounding actor to watch. Director Neil Jordan lays everything out logically and step by step we watch the entire world of this prepubescent boy fall totally and completely to pieces, as he steps into the abyss and lives up to the name he's derisively called by the upper class kidlets -- Butcher Boy.
When the walls come tumbling down, Butcher Boy becomes a most emotionally and visually shocking and disturbing piece of film making.
Honestly, I don't know what kind of number to put on Butcher Boy. It is excellent filmmaking, excellently played by the kidlet but decidedly not a first time out of the gate date flick. So, to the boilerplate...
An average first run movie will cost you about Eight Bucks. Were cranky able to set his own ticket price to The Butcher Boy he'd pay . . .
Cranky recommends this film to those who are ready for a serious moviegoing experience. The Butcher Boy ain't a wild and crazy kids doing Porky's flick. The Butcher Boy is serious business. Be prepared to be stunned. Be prepared to talk about this when it's over. . .
. . .because you will. That's all I'll say.
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