A slim but atmospheric tale of a Belfast teen caught up in IRA-Loyalist retribution, “High Boot Benny” reps a confident turn by Irish filmer Joe Comerford, whose “Reefer and the Model” screened in the Berlin fest’s Panorama section in 1988. Commercial chances look mild, but film has a cinematic feel and interesting non-sectarian approach to its subject matter.
Benny (Marc O’Shea) is a 17-year-old delinquent, mistrustful of all sides in the Irish conflict, who takes refuge in a remote village school just across the border in (southern) Ireland. School is run by a woman (Frances Tomelty) who’s trying to create a neutral haven for kids, and also has vague sexual stirrings for Benny; she’s helped by an ex-priest (Alan Devlin), her sometime lover and sympathizer.
Events escalate when the school janitor, a police informer, is found murdered. Benny is tarred and feathered by IRA men, and one night Loyalists and the Brit army cross over from Northern Ireland with Tomelty and Devlin in their sights.
Dialogue is a tad over-expository at times, but perfs by the three leads mesh well, with Tomelty (the widow in Jim Sheridan’s “The Field”) economically portraying the schoolmom’s idealism and warmth. Photography, cutting and Gaye McIntyre’s ethnic-flavored score are all fine.