The combination of an assured directorial debut, a well-structured screenplay and Ireland’s very own smouldering Hollywood bad boy of the moment: Colin Farrell, would seem to ensure that Intermission makes a big noise with a relatively small drum.
This quirky collection of intersecting tales is certainly no postcard portrayal of modern Ireland, so let’s be thankful for that. What Intermission mercifully lacks in leprechauns and shamrocks it more than makes up for in a bittersweet and engaging depiction of individuals struggling with the rigours of normality. As they brace themselves against the onset of banality (in this case taking the tangy form of a warm, brown sauce beverage) and make somewhat pained efforts to transcend it, these characters expose the wacky idiosyncrasies that endear them to an audience, and set this film apart.
Essentially a contemporary love story interspersed with black comedy and violence; Intermission unravels like a tumbling house of cards, each falling face up and revealing individual subplots that stylistically equal the aspirations of the characters. Colin Farrell’s far too local and shifty-eyed villain with a penchant for bad knitwear, Lehiff establishes his strong-arm charm from the outset in a brutally comic opening that sets the pieces in motion and establishes the film’s disarming intent. The fact that it is hard not to be charmed and amused by Lehiff’s opening monologue makes his sudden flash of violence all the more unexpected. Very quickly we discover that Intermission sets out to subvert any initial assumptions, based upon its potentially social realist trappings, with sharp jolts of misdirection that lie in wait for us throughout.
Lehiff aside, (Farrell is not the main focus of the film despite being the main focus, for obvious reasons, of the films’ promotional campaign) the parade of mixed up idealists are led by the hapless John (Cillian Murphy) a supermarket underling who tries to test his girlfriend Deirdre’s loyalty with a pre-emptive strike. He dumps her, only to have the entire debacle blow up in his face as she shacks up with his apparent nemesis: A suited and booted, married professional. His criminally outlandish and ill-favoured plot to win her back provides the central core of the movie around which the smaller stories are arranged. With dysfunctionality seemingly rife in this particular part of Ireland, John doesn’t labour alone in an effort to find love; his best friend Sam gets involved with an older woman who likes to punch her partner during sex. Meanwhile Deirdre’s facially hirsute sister Sally (the ever watchable Shirley Henderson) has been reduced to little more than a hermit determined to give up men and turn her back on her own sexuality after one particularly horrific lesson in love. Shirley Henderson, with her star on the rise, restates an in-form versatility and range as Sally, that characterises her recent body of work. Full of intense vulnerability, belligerence and a delicate, mousy charm, Henderson manages to mumble throughout the entire film and still emerge as one of the best reasons to go and see it.
Uncompromising Police Detective Jerry Lynch (Colm Meaney from Star Trek) frustrated by the lack of gritty criminality he finds on Dublin’s streets is Lehiff’s alter-ego, and has made it his pet project to apprehend the local menace. Given the opportunity to play up to the cameras for a local television documentary, Lynch uncovers his hardnosed relish for the nastier aspects of police work and his softer side too, deriving much pleasure through listening to Irish folk acts such as Clannad in his unmarked police car! Again, Intermission is never afraid to throw violence and comedy into the mix together to create a startling reaction. The occasional jibes at Irish popular culture along the way increase a sense of parochial charm without ever being severe enough to alienate the Irish cinema-going public. The film has already moved a shed load of box-office since opening across the Irish Sea in August.
A series of unexpected and often ludicrous juxtapositions ensure that this collection of interconnected stories never become staid. Each mini episode remains uncomplicated but entertainingly told. The direction is never flashy, and maintains a realist aesthetic with minimalist lighting and more than the occasional snippet of handheld camera work. An ensemble piece such as this is relies on a strong central core of performances to carry the entire movie and John Crowley displays enough composure to allow this to effectively take care of itself. The results carried mainly through Henderson, Farrell (who reminds us that’s he’s more than just a pretty face) and Meaney work wonderfully well in the mix. By fusing together a handful of lively, expressive performances with a script that urges involvement from the audience through classical dramatic conventions and the occasional bus crash or shooting, Intermission confidently confounds expectation at every turn and manages to keep all the balls in the air.
Comfortable with crossing the line between genres (see if you can spot them all?), happy to satirise elements of it’s own geographical genesis and quite sure of it’s ability to entertain, Intermission feels fresh and engaging. Things tie up a little conveniently in the final reel, in an attempt to reinforce still further the links between the main players, but the fun part is in how they all got there not what they do in the end. A straightforward and touching film with an indomitable spirit of endeavour at its centre, Intermission embodies a try-anything approach to filmmaking that makes for an include-everything bonanza of wit, originality and emotion.
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