Brendan Gleeson returns to John Boorman's lopsided modern world in "The Tiger's Tail." Gleeson animates Boorman's amusing Prince and the Pauper screenplay, which sports a dark social underbelly that puts Ireland's rich-poor divide centerstage. Distribs can count on twinned interest from critics and general auds for this intelligent film.

A top-form Brendan Gleeson returns to John Boorman’s lopsided modern world in “The Tiger’s Tail,” arguably the director’s most appealing entry since “The General.” Playing dual roles as a rich Irish businessman riding the economic boom and his down-and-out twin, Gleeson animates Boorman’s amusing Prince and the Pauper screenplay, which sports a dark social underbelly that puts Ireland’s rich-poor divide centerstage. Distribs, including Buena Vista in the British Isles, can count on twinned interest from critics and general audiences for this intelligent film.

The age-old premise of lookalikes who exchange lives feels fresh and springy here. Liam O’Leary (Gleeson), a man of humble origins, has risen to become a wealthy leader of Dublin’s business community. He has it all: a big house; a glamorous wife, Jane (Kim Cattrall); a thinking if rebellious teenage son, Connor (Briain Gleeson); a flashy real estate development company; and even the cover of a newsmagazine.

The magazine, however, catches the attention of his sinister double, whose face suddenly appears through Liam’s rain-streaked car window while he’s caught in a traffic jam.

No one will believe Liam when he insists he has a double, but before long, this doppelganger lures him out of town and takes over his life. Script has to stretch comic licence to make such unlikely identity theft happen, but who can complain when there are high points like the double swaggering into Liam’s office expecting to find cash and coming face to face with accountants, lawyers and bankers who tell him he’s bankrupt?

Meanwhile, Liam lands in a homeless shelter run by his old buddy Father Andy (Ciaran Hinds), who ironically points out that the more homes Liam builds, the more homeless there are who can’t afford them. Well-written scenes like these put the finger on pic’s social theme and give the doppelganger story depth.

Boorman’s vivacious dialogue keeps up the good cheer even in the story’s darkest moments. Hellish scenes of street fighting and drunk, vomiting teens outside bars show the seamier side of the Celtic tiger, or economic boom. Nor does he miss several golden opportunities to indict hospitals and the national health services. Yet the touch is consistently light and entertaining.

Only uncomfy moment is the impostor’s usurpation of Liam’s wife. The long-neglected Jane seems overly gullible, and the contrived rape-turned-delight scene leaves a bad taste, losing sympathy for the classy Cattrall.

Gleeson gives full-bodied believability to his ruthless businessman, used to cutting deals with local pols and bribing his way into contracts. He also beautifully distinguishes between his two roles, even when Liam and the double are wearing identical clothes in the same scene. His brother Frank Gleeson steps into the odd shot as a convincing picture double, while his real-life offspring Briain Gleeson offers a fine comic turn as Liam’s golf-playing Marxist son.

Finely filling supporting roles are Sinead Cusack as Liam’s tragic older sister, and Cathy Belton and Sean McGinley as his long-suffering employees.

Carefully crafted scenes do credit to a top tech staff, led by Seamus Deasy’s atmospheric nighttime lensing, Ian Whittaker’s luxurious sets and Maeve Paterson’s rags-to-riches costume design.

The Tiger's Tail

Ireland-U.K.

Production

A Buena Vista release (in U.K. and Ireland) of a Merlin Films/U.K. Film Council/Irish Film Board production. (International sales: Moviehouse Entertainment, London.) Produced by John Boorman, Kieran Corrigan. U.K. producer, John Buchanan. Co-produced by John McDonnell. Directed, written by John Boorman.

Crew

Camera (color), Seamus Deasy; editor, Ron Davis; music, Stephen McKeon; production designer, Ian Whittaker; costume designer, Maeve Paterson; sound (Dolby Digital), Eddie Quinn; assistant director, Kevan Barker. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Official Selection), Sept. 24, 2006. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Liam/His Double - Brendan Gleeson Jane - Kim Cattrall Connor - Briain Gleeson Oona - Sinead Cusack Father Andy - Ciaran Hinds
With: Cathy Belton, Sean McGinley, Angeline Ball, Denis Conway, Charlene McKenna, Moira Deady, Michael Fitzgerald, Frank Gleeson.

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