- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

“Intermission” certainly won’t be confused with a major cinematic event, but it has guilty-pleasure potential, especially if you like the idea of Irish comic depravity as avidly as the Irish filmmakers, director John Crowley and writer Mark O’Rowe.

The movie seems loath to deny that the Irish are a lawless and pugnacious breed, especially, though not exclusively, on the male side of the population. Indeed, belligerence links generations of characters. It’s a precocious public menace in a rock-hurling little boy and a die-hard source of bravado in an elderly cripple who likes to think of himself as the chieftain of the neighborhood pub.

This is the first movie venture by Mr. Crowley and Mr. O’Rowe, whose previous experience was confined to the stage. The confinement shows in an unflattering, up-close and drably perfunctory approach to scene-setting and composition. The compensatory factor is the skilled and vivid acting of an ensemble that includes Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, Ger Ryan and others in this collection of Dublin desperadoes and dear hearts.

The characters are arranged like a circle of dominoes. It amuses the filmmakers to orchestrate the ways they topple and antagonize one another. Mr. Farrell is not a leading man here. He’s cast as a scurvy felon, Lehiff, who gets the show off to an ugly start by flirting with the clerk in a coffee shop and then busting her in the nose before robbing the till. There’s quite a bit of this littering the movie, which shares in the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie hypocrisy of smugly celebrating and mocking criminal impulses.

The breakup of a romance between Miss Macdonald’s Deirdre and a grocery store stock clerk, John, played by Cillian Murphy, precipitates the domino effect. She takes up with a middle-aged bank manager, Sam (Michael McElhatton), who proves a little more stay-at-home than she bargained for, even while cheating on his wife, Noeleen (Deirdre O’Kane), who goes on an erotic rampage that terrifies John’s lovelorn buddy Oscar (David Wilmot), eventually meant to match up with Deirdre’s kid sister Sally, so defensive that she refuses to recognize that her faint mustache might be noticeable or effaceable.

When John is sacked, he falls in with a robbery scheme that involves Lehiff and a fuming bus driver, Mick (Brian F. O’Byrne), suspended for an accident caused by the elusive little rock-thrower. The outlook is just as grotesque in the law enforcement sector. A rampaging cop named Jerry (Mr. Meaney) longs to become the star of a TV reality series about life on the mean streets of Dublin. The pitch tempts an aspiring programmer, Tom O’Sullivan’s Ben, who meets plenty of resistance in his boss. “Too nasty,” the boss decides when presented with the concept of ride-alongs with a brutish cop. “Softer, softer,” he urges.

Not that the filmmakers take their own advice to heart. They revel in grandstanding, farcical nastiness about 90 percent of the time.

Given this overload, it’s the soft interjections that surprise you. For example, it comes as a welcome shock when Ger Ryan’s Maura, the widowed mother of Deirdre and Sally, reminisces about a happy marriage. Her modesty and decency serve as a serene comic rebuke to the pathetic hustling, chiseling and sleepwalking that afflict the other characters.

To their credit, tenderness is not categorically rejected by Mr. Crowley and Mr. O’Rowe. They’re just more confident when consorting sarcastically with an abundance of louts and malcontents.

*1/2

TITLE: “Intermission”

RATING: R (Frequent profanity and occasional graphic violence, often with a facetious twist; occasional sexual candor, with fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse)

CREDITS: Directed by John Crowley. Written by Mark O’Rowe. Cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski.

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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