2003, R, 106 min. Directed by John Crowley. Starring Cillian Murphy, Kelly Macdonald, Colin Farrell, Shirley Henderson, Colm Meaney, Rory Keenan, Brian F. O’Byrne.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 9, 2004
The British Isles had a great run in the Nineties of scrappy, snappy ensemble comedies (The Commitments, Trainspotting, Snatch), and Intermission initially looks to follow in those footsteps with its brash, literally knockout opening, in which mad-dog criminal Lehiff (Farrell) rips off a convenience store armed only with verbal seduction and a fierce right hook. Farrell (whose screen time is actually quite short) plays but one of Intermission’s dozen interweaving characters, some of whom are breaking up, some making up, some just looking to get laid. The central figure is John (28 Days Later’s Murphy), who hates his job and pines for his ex-girlfriend, Deirdre (Macdonald); in an exceedingly twisted move to win back her love, he hooks up with Lehiff for a bank heist that hinges on taking Deirdre hostage. That sort of anti-logic (and faint misogyny) runs throughout Irish filmmaker John Crowley’s black comedy; the script (by first-time screenwriter Mark O’Rowe) is largely built on the chain reaction of one idiotic, self-defeating action after another. In manipulating its many disparate characters to bump into each other and set plot lines in motion, Intermission walks a fine line between clever and contrived, with the scale tipping more often toward contrived. Of course, plot contrivances can be easily forgiven provided the material is compelling enough. But despite the many appealing actors in Crowley’s arsenal, Intermission fails to connect emotionally; in between repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot, very few of the characters have the time or inclination to drum up any sympathy. The always endearing Shirley Henderson, as Deirdre’s sister Sally, proves exception to the rule as a woman badly scarred by a lover’s betrayal. But her deep hurt is undercut, even exploited, throughout at the service of a running gag involving her manly mustache (the punchline being that she is so demoralized she can’t even keep up with personal grooming). Ultimately, she picks herself up and opens herself up to love again, but it’s a small triumph in a film so bent on pursuing the worst parts of the sad sacks it chooses to chronicle.