Cillian Murphy as John
Colin Farrell as Lehiff
Kelly MacDonald as Deirdre
Shirley Henderson as Sally
Colm Meaney as Detective Jerry Lynch
Tomas O’Suilleabhain as Ben
Barbara Bergin as Karen
Brian F. O’Byrne as Mick the busdriver
Ger Ryan as Maura
David Wilmot as Oscar
Tom Farrelly as George
Rory Keenan as Anthony
Michael McElhatton as Sam
Taylor Molloy as Stone throwing boy
Deirdre O’Kane as Noeleen
Owen Roe as Mr. Henderson
In a small Dublin community, the slightest action can start a domino effect that affects the lives of everyone. John (Cillian Murphy) only broke up with his girlfriend Deirdre (Kelly MacDonald) a few weeks earlier, yet she is already having an affair with an older, married bank manager, leaving his wife feeling unwanted. John allows himself to be dragged into an elaborate bank heist with the unruly thug Lehiff (Colin Farrell), the nemesis of boxing police detective, Jerry Lynch (Colm Meaney), who is the subject of a news documentary. While John’s friend Oscar desperately looks for love and sex, Dierdre’s sister Sally (Henderson) is going to pot, having sworn off men after a bad incident.
How all of these people are connected is what makes Intermission, John Crowley’s feature film debut, such a fascinating film. Paced like an episode of the British soap opera “Eastenders”, the movie introduces each of the many players in short snippets, never staying long on any of them. Other filmmakers have used a similar technique to show the lives of people and how they’re connected, with Richard Curtis doing this the most recently with his romantic comedy, Love Actually, looking at how the Christmas season affects a diverse group of seemingly unrelated people. It’s long been a staple of indie fare with P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts being memorable standouts. (The best recent example I’ve seen was the Austrian film, Free Radicals, which hopefully will get distribution in the States soon.)
Sadly, Intermission isn’t as funny or joyous as Richard Curtis’ film, nor is it as poignant or thought provoking as some of the others, possibly due to the overwhelming cast of characters, which is on the verge of requiring a scorecard. The plot itself is minimal, revolving around a bus crash and an attempted bank robbery.
On the other hand, the movie’s greatest strength is the amazing cast of Irish and Scottish actors that bring these characters to life. Cillian Murphy, best known from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, is the center of the cast, playing the sullen lead character with emotion exuding from his striking good looks. Farrell has the unenviable job of playing one of the most despicable characters in the movie, much like he did as Bullseye in Daredevil. Although there is a certain dark charm to his smarmy street thug, his violent nature, especially towards women, makes him utterly dislikeable. Colm Meaney is a lesser-known actor that you see everywhere but can never quite remember from where, most likely from his role as Chief Miles O’Brien on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”. Playing Detective Jerry Lynch in Intermission allows him to show that he has more depth, playing a character with one of the most interesting story arcs.
Two Scottish actresses play the two sisters, although both are probably more known in their native land. Shirley Henderson’s grating voice and accent made her the perfect Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She pulls out a surprisingly good turn as Deirdre’s dowdy sister with an amusing recurring plot device about how she has let herself go, to the point of having a rather obvious moustache. It’s a part with more potential than Kelly MacDonald’s Deirdre, which does not give her the chance to show off her acting chops as she did in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.
The able cast is not surprising considering that Mark O’Rowe script and dialogue are solid, his background in stage work being apparent from how well the characters and their interaction are handled. Likewise, Crowley’s potential as a director comes from being able to get such great performances out of a cast far more experienced than himself.
Unfortunately, the actual filmmaking leaves a lot to be desired. The cinematography is primitive at best, shot mainly with a shaky DV camerawork that gives the entire movie a distracting grainy look. Intermission might seem like a “talking heads” movie due to the surplus of dialogue and character interaction, but there is a surprising amount of action, including two car chases and a jarring bus crash, that keeps things the pace from dragging. While the dialogue sequences work, Crowley seems out of his depth whenever he tries to up the pace.
Like many cool indie movies, Intermission might provide an excellent soundtrack album, with some great tunes from U2 and the Magnetic Fields. Not all of them were appropriate for the scenes they were underscoring, but it gives the movie a fresh youthful feel that owes more to movies like Trainspotting or Igby Goes Down than normal Hollywood fare.
Most importantly, Intermission is a look at a culture and a lifestyle that is rarely seen in its natural environment. Of the cross-section represented, it’s interesting to see how the people of the town plow through their menial everyday lives, and how their jobs affect their nature, from the bus driver to the scowling girl at the department store. American audiences might wish that there were subtitles for some parts, as the Irish brogue might be hard to understand, but it’s not nearly as bad as other movies. People might have a harder time with some of the distinctively Irish humor that will go over many heads. (The “brown sauce” used by Murphy’s character in everything, including tea, might not seem so funny if one doesn’t know that it’s typically put on meat like steak sauce.)
The Bottom Line:
While it’s a bit of a rough debut for John Crowley, Intermission is an amusing, if not sometimes absurd, slice-of-life study of Irish culture and community with interesting characters that interact much like they might in real life. If nothing else, the enjoyable characters and amusing situations are worth a chuckle or a smile, which should be enough to maintain interest in this interesting movie.