Richard Harris and Stephen Rea make surprising screen chemistry in “Trojan Eddie,” the most satisfying pic to dateby Glasgow-born helmer Gillies MacKinnon. The Irish-set drama about a play-safe small-town hawker and play-for-broke small-time godfather takes a while to reveal its qualities but ends up deeply satisfying on all levels, thanks to well-rounded characters and performances down the line. Pic lacks the stylistic flourishes of MacKinnon’s previous “Small Faces,” but is a more substantial meal all round. With focused marketing and good reviews, this could lift some moderate B.O. coin from discerning audiences.
Trojan Eddie (Rea), so named after the van in which he transports his goods, is a born salesman peddling goods to housewives on behalf of local big shot John Power (Harris), leader of a group of “travelers” who long ago put down their roots. Between looking after his two kids, Eddie has a thing going with the tolerant Betty (Brid Brennan) as well an errant wife, Shirley (Angeline Ball), who comes and goes.
Eddie has yet to realize his dream of going into business for himself, and is recently out of stir following a botched robbery. Biding his time, he’s teamed with Power’s nephew, Dermot (Stuart Townsend), in the selling game.
Meanwhile, Power, a vicious but aging bruiser, has developed an all-consuming passion for Kathleen (Aislin McGuckin), a spirited young traveler whom Dermot is secretly seeing on the side. She agrees to marry Power, who promptly kicks Dermot out of town; when the young lovers make off with the wedding-party cash and go into hiding, Power goes ape and involves Eddie in the search for them. Eddie also has his eyes on the money to start his business, but first has to extricate himself from Power’s suspicion of involvement and the escalating spiral of violence.
The first-time script by Irish playwright-novelist Billy Roche throws a lot of characters at the viewer in its opening reels, as well as a multitude of plot strands. But though it takes a short while to position the players with respect to one another, the film soon develops a dramatic momentum that cleverly keeps everyone’s stories (including several minor characters’) on the boil and finds resolutions for each by story’s end.
As well as the simmering tension between the travelers and “townies” such as Eddie, there’s a much stronger arc that holds the busy plot together: the failing clout of the thuggish Power, perpetually tongue-lashing the supine locals for their lack of ambition, and the quiet craftiness of Eddie, who may finally make something of his life if he’s for once willing to take a risk. By cleverly hanging the mass of other characters at various points on this dramatic clothesline, Roche brings cohesion to a potentially unwieldy script.
The other surprise is the teaming of Harris and Rea, two very different actors in technique and personality (as well as hailing from north and south of the Irish border). In the early going, Harris, with the seemingly showier role, looks set to dominate the pic; but as the dramatic weight shifts more behind Rea , the pair finally come out level, with a lovely final scene that underlines their shift of fortunes. MacKinnon should surely take some credit here, too, for shading their playing through the length of the movie.
Screen newcomer McGuckin makes a sturdy showing as the young femme in the middle, progressing from a seeming innocent to a harder-headed player. Ball (the sparky blond singer in “The Commitments”) is sharp as Eddie’s get-up-and-go wife , and Brennan impressive in the quieter role of Eddie’s patient lover. The male supports are all well drawn, as a panorama of southern Irish types.
Technicalcredits are pro, with photography by John de Borman (“Small Faces,” “The Passion of Darkly Noon”) giving a fractionally heightened look to the realistic setting.