Cillian Murphy as Patrick “Kitten” Braden
Liam Neeson as Father Bernard
Stephen Rea as Bertie
Brendan Gleeson as John-Joe
Gavin Friday as Billy Hatchet
Laurence Kinlan as Irwin
Ruth McCabe as Ma Braden
Ruth Negga as Charlie
Eva Birthistle as Eily Bergin
Morne Botes as Jason
Paraic Breathnach as Benny Feely
Mary Coughlan as Housekeeper
Liam Cunningham as Mosher
Tony Devlin as White Dove
Rachel Donovan as Nurse
Derek Elroy as Rasta Son
Bryan Ferry as Mr. Silky String
Ian Hart as PC Wallis
Pat McCabe as Peepers Egan
Charlene McKenna as Caroline Braden
Ciaran Nolan as Horse Killane
Rynagh O’Grady as Mrs. Coyle
Eamonn Owens as Jackie Timlin
Mary Regan as Mrs. Feely
Owen Roe as Dean Hannigan
Jonathan Ryan as Garda
Britta Smith as Mrs. Clarke
Steven Waddington as Insp. Routledge
Sid Young as Eily’s Boy
“Breakfast on Pluto” is certainly not Neil Jordan’s strongest work, but the strange and lively nature of Kitten Braden, as realized by Cillian Murphy, keeps things entertaining in this very odd film.
It’s the ’70s, and Patrick “Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy) is a young Irish boy who suffers from abandonment and gender identity issues after being left by his mother as a baby. He starts wearing dresses and make-up in a time when transsexuals were not so commonplace, and he travels down to London to try to find his mother, getting himself involved in the world of rock, prostitution and terrorism.
In 1992, Irish director Neil Jordan turned heads with “The Crying Game”, a serious drama about terrorists and transsexuals. Five years later, he adapted Patrick McCabe’s novel “The Butcher Boy,” and once again, the two have reteamed for a very different animal from Jordan’s previous work, which once covers similar themes: terrorists and transsexuals.
That said, this is a far lighter film for Jordan, something obvious from the two CGI birds that fly across the screen chirping to each other with appropriate subtitles as the film opens. They land on a doorstep and start poking at the milk bottles just as a young mother leaves her baby there. This our first encounter with Patrick Braden, an imaginative dreamer with a tenuous grasp on reality that will repeatedly prove to be his undoing. Most of the village knows what Patrick doesn’t, that he’s the illegitimate child of a dalliance between his mother and the local Catholic priest, played by Liam Neeson, but as Patrick hears stories about his mother being compared to Mitzi Gaynor, he tries to become more like her, putting on make-up and acting effeminately. As a youth, he spends most of his time with a group of outcasts, including a boy with Down’s Syndrome who meets an untimely end. Eventually, Patrick, who has created a new persona for himself known as “Kitten”, realizes that he has to go down to London to save his mother, who was last seen there. On his journey, he’ll get involved with rock bands, Irish terrorists and other oddities that never phase him from his goal.
This is a very different Cillian Murphy than the one we’ve seen in “Batman Begins” and “Red Eye”, not only because he wears a dress and make-up, but also because of the character’s fey and effeminate demeanor, which takes some getting used to. Kitten is so flighty, rarely worrying about her own well being or the tragedies going around her that at first, you’re not sure why you should care about her either. After a while, you start to feel moved by her plight, which reminds me a bit of the title character from my favorite Fellini film “The Nights of Cabiria.”
While Murphy is breaking away from type, Liam Neeson once again finds himself playing a mentor figure, and he brings a lot to the movie as the Catholic priest trying to form a bond with his troubled son, although it means he would have to give up his flock. Neeson brings just the right amount of inner torment to the character, especially when he has to go down to a seedy part of London to retrieve Patrick, and he realizes how far he has fallen in his quest to find a mother.
Brendan Gleeson has a fun role as Kitten’s boisterous boss at a Disneyland like theme park where Kitten dresses up as a cartoon character, and longtime Jordan collaborator Stephen Rea, also in a unusual role, plays the kindly middle-aged magician Bertie, who doesn’t seem to mind the fact that Kitten is really a man. You kind of hope things will work out between them, but he also starts to take advantage of Kitten’s naivety while using her in his act. Music fans will probably get a kick out of seeing Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry playing a psychopath who picks Kitten up, then tries to kill her, and Gavin Friday of the Virgin Prunes (Dublin punk band of the late ’70s) gives a great turn as the singer of a glam rock band who falls for Kitten, despite being ridiculed by his bandmates. Actually, Friday gives one of the more impressive performances, considering how little acting experience he has compared to the rest of the cast.
The mix of serious political matters in the film–the conflict between England and Ireland that was just starting up in the ’70s–with lighter and more frivolous affair might be frustrating, if not for Neil Jordan playful use of visuals and music that somehow makes the disjointed series of vignettes work as a whole. A collage of great ’70s pop and rock music including Harry Nilsson, Van Morrison and of course, T-Rex, the soundtrack creates the perfect atmosphere and stage for this very different type of period piece. Jordan also makes his first noticeable foray into computer visuals, enhancing the real world with the fantasy world in Kitten’s mind in a unique way. A lot of Jordan’s directorial choices really fit Kitten’s personality to a tee.
In the end, Kitten’s search for his mother wins you over, as does a number of touching moments between Murphy and Neeson. In many ways, “Breakfast on Pluto” is a fairy tale, as seen through the eyes of an idealist who lives in his/her own fantasy world. Like this film, it’s a very strange world indeed.
The Bottom Line:
This strange film won’t be for everyone, mainly because watching Cillian Murphy in drag for an entire movie takes some patience and tolerance to get used to. That said, it’s not a bad movie, and it’s actually quite a touching story of a dreamer trying to find him or herself.
Breakfast on Pluto opens in New York on Wednesday and in L.A. on December 2.