This review was updated on Aug. 21, 2003.
Eleven storylines, with no less than 54 speaking parts, humorously crisscross through raw,rambunctious contempo Dublin in “interMission,” an extremely impressive debut by Irish helmer John Crowley and writer Mark O’Rowe in their first movie forays outside the legit world. Helped by positive notices and the marquee appeal of Colin Farrell (blending into a strong ensemble cast), this borderline grungy but highly entertaining comedy-drama could reap moderately warm returns with careful placement. Pic won the Audience Award at its world preem in Ireland’s Galway fest last month and also proved a popular item at recent Edinburgh screenings.
In the now-crowded international field of crisscrossers, “interMission” — tentatively set for an early 2004 release in the U.S. — stands out for the clarity of its characters, all of whom are introduced and developed without making the audience work overtime, and the Swiss-clock precision of its script, in which passing early details later assume significance.
Though shot in a nervy, handheld way, there’s actually considerable calculation in what is and what isn’t shown onscreen. For starters, the film gives absolutely no sense of geography: Everything is focused on the characters. Apart from the moderately thick Irish accents, the movie could be set in any north European inner city.
Opening, in which petty crim-cum-thug Lehiff (Farrell) tries to chat up a girl in a diner, contains one of several shocks that pepper the movie and keep viewers on their toes. Shaven-headed, tattooed and brutish of mien, Farrell — clearly having a ball in the role between bigger-budget assignments — manages to swing between rough Irish humor, twinkle-eyed charm and moments of brutal drama.
Characters pile up in the opening reels before the script starts to pick ‘n’ mix. There’s John (Cillian Murphy) and his pal Oscar (David Wilmot), stock boys in a supermarket whose boss, Henderson (Owen Roe), is always on their case for slacking off. John is still sore at his ex, the beautiful Deidre (Kelly Macdonald), who’s taken up with a middle-aged bank manager, Sam (Michael McElhatton), who in turn has walked out on his wife of 14 years, Noeleen (Deidre O’Kane). Oscar is haunted by fears that he’s become impotent.
Meanwhile, in a bar where many of the characters congregate, Det. Jerry Lynch (Colm Meaney) spots Lehiff and roughs him up in the restroom, warning him to “stay out of trouble.” Lynch delights in his tough-cop image and hopes to become a celebrity if docu producer Ben (Tom O’Sullivan) can convince his boss that Lynch is TV material.
Shopping in town with their mom, Maura (Ger Ryan), is Deidre’s sister, Sally (Shirley Henderson), a mousy brunette who’s let herself go to pieces since her fiance dumped and abused her. As Maura and Sally return home on a bus driven by Mick (Brian F. O’Byrne), pic springs a second surprise — actually seen, to greater effect, in flashback — triggered by a rock-throwing street kid, Phillip (Taylor Molloy).
Though the movie doesn’t neatly divide into traditional acts, it’s from this point on, some three reels in, that scripter O’Rowe starts to move the characters up a level. One that reveals a surprising side is Noeleen who, dragged to a dance by a female friend, meets Oscar and puts an end to his impotence with a vengeance.
But it’s Lahiff, who’s been trailing Sam and Deidre, who kickstarts the final section, which finds him, John and now-pinkslipped Mick in a kidnapping wheeze that fans out to involve almost the entire cast.
Despite its scabrous Irish humor, the picture is essentially a romantic comedy at heart, if done in a semi-docu way and with an undercurrent of violence. It’s disappointing that O’Rowe’s script feels the need to resort to guns in the final stanza, but that’s virtually the only misstep in an otherwise terrifically constructed piece of writing, which manages to be clever and unpredictable without bending its characters out of shape.
Ensemble playing is faultless, with Meaney’s braggadocio cop, O’Kane’s abandoned wife, Henderson’s mopey Plain Jane and Wilmot’s desperate Lothario proving special delights. In a more stylish role than usual, Macdonald shows signs of maturing into a classy actress. And though playing in a much lower key than Farrell, the ethereal-eyed Murphy still gives his countryman a run for his money in screen appeal.
Tech credits are tight and pro down the line, with John Murphy’s music and a selection of songs pushing things along nicely. Restless lensing by Polish d.p. Ryszard Lenczewski (“The Last Resort”) is tops.