Ordinary Decent Criminal

"Ordinary Decent Criminal" is an ordinary, decent movie. Neither an embarrassment nor a triumph, tedious nor gripping, this latest screen version of the antics of late Dublin criminal Martin Cahill rattles along for a charming 90 minutes but leaves no discernible wake in its path.

“Ordinary Decent Criminal” is an ordinary, decent movie. Neither an embarrassment nor a triumph, tedious nor gripping, this latest screen version of the antics of late Dublin criminal Martin Cahill rattles along for a charming 90 minutes but leaves no discernible wake in its path. Despite a fine cast, headed by a Blarneyful Kevin Spacey in the title role, pic looks set to suffer in critical comparisons with John Boorman’s masterly “The General” (1998) and make a fast escape to half-inch.

Shot in late 1998, a year after Boorman’s version and a few months after David Blair’s BBC telepic “Vicious Circle,” starring Ken Stott, “ODC” has been gathering dust for a while, with a 105-minute version given a test screening in London last summer. Having finally preemed in Ireland in January, pic is now getting a low-key release in the U.K. and will bow in Germany and Australia in May. Though it was made in association with Spacey’s own company, Trigger Street Prods., the actor takes no producer credit on print caught; the reported $12 million budget, from U.K., Irish and German sources, was channeled through Irish-based production company Little Bird.

“ODC” differs from previous versions in one major respect: all names are changed, with Spacey, for instance, taking the role of Michael Lynch. But the basis of the film’s story is never in doubt and, for anyone familiar with Boorman’s pic, whole sequences evoke the earlier work.

Dubbed “Dublin’s top criminal” by the Irish press, Lynch is first seen calmly robbing a bank in broad daylight and running rings around the city’s police force and legal system. Always masking his face in public, he’s portrayed as a public prankster and private family man, spinning tall tales for his three kids at bedtime that shore up his own carefully constructed legend.

Latter sequence is the only one in which Lynch’s youth is sketched, as a long-haired, working-class hero who refused to move from a housing project marked for demolition and even managed to get the mayor to personally come along and offer him new accommodations. Though briefer, and more subliminally edited, this montage strikingly recalls a longer section from Boorman’s pic. In “ODC,” it’s used as an explanation of Lynch’s psyche, as he tells his kids that you can always beat the system if you “stay loyal” and stick together.

Film’s first couple of reels rapidly traverse a lot of territory, including his open sexual relationship with both his wife, Christine (Linda Fiorentino), and her sister, Lisa (Helen Baxendale), plus the obsessive quest by a cop, Quigley (Stephen Dillane, in Jon Voight’s “General” role), to put him behind bars. The storytelling then starts to settle down a bit, as Lynch plans a daring robbery of a supposedly impregnable jeweler and then, in what’s the heart of the movie, the theft and disposal of a $45 million Caravaggio painting from an art gallery.

Lynch sees that heist, which goes off like clockwork, as the pinnacle of his career, the event for which he’ll be remembered. The fencing of the canvas brings him into direct conflict with both the bumbling police and the sinister IRA, which offers to take it off his hands cheaply. Lynch, however, has other plans that he has divulged to no one.

Spacey makes an OK stab at an Irish accent in his perf as the genial Lynch, who is a very different character from the volatile, psychotic protagonist of Boorman’s movie, memorably played by the beefy Brendan Gleeson. Though Spacey’s perf hints at a darker side to Lynch’s personality, he’s mostly a cheeky chap who enjoys his job, his renown and the devotion of two women (a largely anodyne Fiorentino and under-used Baxendale). It’s all rather jolly and very PG: One mild torture scene of a suspected traitor is all we see of the character’s ruthlessness, and the final reel, which departs totally from the real Cahill story, wraps the pic up as little more than a likable caper movie.

On its own terms, “ODC” is an often enjoyable, very easy slice of entertainment, nudged along by an upbeat score by Blur’s Damon Albarn. Showing signs of late-on cutting, the movie hurtles along under editor William Anderson’s antsy scissors and looks good in widescreen without ever making really striking use of the Super-35 frame. Cast is stacked with solid Anglo-Yank-Scottish talent, from Dillane’s icy cool, taciturn cop through David Hayman’s tough, trusty sidekick to Peter Mullan’s more restless associate who finally has enough of Lynch’s games.

Helmer Thaddeus O’Sullivan directs with a solid professionalism on every level, though the finished product bears not a trace of the director of the more meaty “December Bride” and “Nothing Personal.” Script by Irish writer Gerard Stembridge (“Guiltrip”) is equally solid without going very deep.

And that’s the problem with the whole movie. Even for auds not familiar with Boorman’s fine picture, which sadly drew few ticket buyers outside the fest circuit, “ODC” is far too lite for its own good. Far better to have constructed a totally fictional character than to tease the viewer with nuggets of a real one melted down into base gold.

Ordinary Decent Criminal


  • Production: An Icon (in U.K.)/Miramax (in U.S.) release of an Icon Entertainment Intl. presentation of a Little Bird production, in association with Tatfilm and Trigger Street Prods., with participation of Miramax Films, The Irish Film Board, The Greenlight Fund and Filmstiftung NRW. Produced by Jonathan Cavendish. Executive producers, James Mitchell, Christine Ruppert. Co-producer, Martha O'Neill. Directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan. Screenplay, Gerard Stembridge.
  • Crew: Camera (Technicolor prints, Panavision widescreen), Andrew Dunn; editor, William Anderson; music, Damon Albarn; production designer, Tony Burrough; costume designer, Jane Robinson; sound (Dolby Digital), Kieran Horgan, Paul Carr; assistant director, Deborah Saban; casting, Ros and John Hubbard. Reviewed at Virgin Trocadero 5, London, March 23, 2000. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • With: Michael Lynch - Kevin Spacey Christine - Linda Fiorentino Stevie - Peter Mullan Det. Sgt. Noel Quigley - Stephen Dillane Lisa - Helen Baxendale Tony - David Hayman <B>With:</B> Patrick Malahide, Gerard McSorley, Tim Loane.
  • Music By: