Review: ‘Rare Birds’

Austere maritime settings are used to captivating effect in "Rare Birds," which preemed in Toronto and went on to win the people's choice award at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax. William Hurt and Andy Jones make an agreeable team as, respectively, a failing restaurateur and a hustler who aims to help him.

Austere maritime settings are used to captivating effect in “Rare Birds,” which preemed in Toronto and went on to win the people’s choice award at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax. William Hurt and Andy Jones make an agreeable team as, respectively, a failing restaurateur and a hustler who aims to help him. Names and local color could help Lions Gate pic get a foothold in North America, but “Birds” might fly farther in non-U.S. markets.

Hurt is quietly affecting as Dave Purcell, a fine chef but a lousy businessman whose sticksville cafe, the Auk, is named after a rare, possibly extinct kind of duck. So his tinkering pal Phonse Murphy (the very funny Jones) gets the idea of claiming to sight the fowl creature in an effort to bring more and better-heeled tourists to their deserted neck of the Newfoundland woods. If Phonse can unload those 26 pounds of cocaine he stumbled across — the detritus of somebody else’s drug deal gone bad — so much the better. And who are those guys in unmarked cars, anyway?

Molly Parker makes an elegant intrusion as an architecture student and part-time waitress who falls for the married-but-recently-dumped Dave. The pair gives off a few soft intergenerational sparks, although a lesser presence than Parker’s would reveal the femme role to be seriously underwritten.

Script is haphazard in other ways (an entire side trip in a windowless submarine seems spurious), but Vancouver-based Sturla Gunnarsson’s direction has just the right sardonic lightness to maintain viewer interest. Tech credits are all assured, with underground lighting, in yet another subplot, particularly striking. Appearances by Greg Malone and Cathy Jones, keeping up with topliner Jones, afford a nod to hard-core fans of Codco, the most successful comedy troupe ever to come out of Atlantic Canada.

Rare Birds

Canada

Production

A Lions Gate Films release of a Rare Prods./Pope Prods./Big Pictures Entertainment production. Produced by Paul Pope, Janet York. Executive producers, Sam Feldman, Jeff Sackman. Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson. Screenplay, Edward Riche, based on his novel.

Crew

Camera (color), Jan Kiesser; editor, Jeff Warren; music, Jonathan Goldsmith; production designer, Pam Hall; set decorator, Kathee Reardigan; costume designer, Jeanie Kimber; sound, Jim Rillie; associate producer, Tamara Shannon; assistant director, Alex Pappas; casting, Pat McCorkle, John Comerford. Reviewed at the Fifth Avenue, Vancouver, Sept. 28, 2001. (In Toronto, Vancouver and Atlantic film festivals.) Running time: 104 MIN.

With

William Hurt, Andy Jones, Molly Parker, Mary Walsh, Vicky Hynes, Greg Malone, Maggie Myer, Lawrence Barry, Sheila McCarthy, Leah Lewis, Michael Chaisson, Matthew Clarke, George Jonas.
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