Movie Review By Larry Carlin
Art, as the saying goes, sometimes has a way of imitating life. In 1979 the film The China Syndrome came out at the same time that the Three Mile Island near-nuclear disaster took place in Pennsylvania. A few short months back the film Wag The Dog played in movie houses just before the President's supposed sexual forays became front-page news, and recently Primary Colors was released. And now, in a case of eerie timing after the shootings in Arkansas three weeks back, comes the tale from Ireland of a violent lad who commits a heinous crime without so much as a dash of remorse in the new Neil Jordan film called The Butcher Boy.
The setting is a small town in Ireland in the early 1960s. Young Francie Brady reads comic books and plays cowboys and Indians with his only friend Joe while his frail mother is on the verge of insanity and his useless father drinks himself into oblivion. An encounter with Mrs. Nugent, a snooty neighbor woman -- who calls the Bradys "pigs" -- sets Francie off in a downward spiral that he never recovers from. His mother is taken off to the "garage" (a euphemism for a mental hospital), his father drinks himself to death, his friend Joe tries to distance himself from the feckless Francie, he gets sexually abused by priests, and Francie blames all his bad luck on his neighbor Nugent, eventually exacting revenge in this darkly tragi-comic film that will both leave you laughing at, and loathing, the wee lad.
Director Neil Jordan of The Crying Game fame co-wrote the screenplay along with Patrick McCabe, who wrote the book called The Butcher Boy. Eamonn Owens, in his stunning acting debut, plays the menacing Francie, the 12 year-old with the out-of-control imagination, who is every parent's worst nightmare. Stephen Rea, who has made six films now with director Jordan, plays Francie's drunken dad and he also provides the voice of the adult Francie who tells the story in flashback. And in a stroke of sarcastic casting, Sinead O'Connor plays the Virgin Mary apparition who Francie turns to for advice throughout the film. The Butcher Boy is a well-written, well-acted tour de force that also won Jordan the 1998 Berlin Film Festival's Silver Bear Award for Best Director.
For those of you looking for the usual paddywackery found in far too many Irish films of yore -- leprechauns, shillelaghs, and all-knowing clergy -- you will not be amused with the antics of cute little Francie Brady. But for those of you who ask, "How could those boys in Arkansas shoot their fellow classmates?" The Butcher Boy may give you clue, and for Movie Magazine, I'm Larry Carlin.
© 1999 - Larry Carlin - Air Date: 4/15/98
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