MGM // 2003 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // December 13th, 2004
Life is what happens in between.
Finally, an Irish movie actually shot in Ireland, starring Irish actors, made by an Irish filmmaker -- and it's not Neil Jordan.
Intermission, like Doug Liman's Go, combines a number of characters and narratives into one nearly cohesive piece. We get John, the jilted ex-boyfriend (Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later) with a fondness for Chef's Sauce and a funny notion of how to get his girlfriend back. She's Deirdre (Trainspotting's Kelly McDonald), who has recently moved in with Sam (Michael McElhatton, Blow Dry), who just left his wife Noeleen (Deirdre O'Kane, With or Without You), who hooks up with John's best friend Oscar (David Wilmot, Laws of Attraction) on the rebound. Meanwhile, a tough-as-nails cop with a penchant for Celtic mysticism (Colm Meaney, Con Air) is followed by a documentary filmmaker as he pursues Lehiff (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Veronica Guerin), the local criminal who joins up with John to rob Sam and kidnap Deirdre. See how it all folds in on itself?
If Love Actually had included more beer, dirt, and blood in its romantic comedy mosaic, it would looked a lot more like John Crowley's Intermission. The Irish import wants to be the newest entry into the Bullet Comedy genre -- the kind of post-Tarantino movie that directors like Guy Ritchie somehow built a career on -- but can't quite get there. There's another, better movie underneath that surface, undercutting its ability to function as just another Tarantino wannabe.
After a virtuoso opening sequence (the kickiest since Trainspotting), the film settles into a slower and more deliberate pace, which is too bad -- I would have loved for it to have sustained its own frenetic energy. That first scene is a literal sock in the face, a wake-up call that smashes a tired movie convention and demands our attention. We want the movie never to look back, but sadly, it does -- though never to the point of dullness. It merely shifts into a different kind of film: the quirky, dialogue-driven, labyrinthine-plotted character comedy. Considering the lack of much real time devoted to any one of the stories, it's amazing that each individual one comes through as well as they all do; even those that don't necessarily work (more on that in a minute) at least aren't forgettable.
There's more heart found in Intermission than in most Bullet Comedies -- it is, essentially, a film about people who are lost, searching for some kind of connection amidst the chaos. That's what's implied by the title, Intermission -- these connections, these moments of clarity, these smaller but infinitely more important events that occur in between the larger acts of our lives. It's why we find new love during a harmless conversation with the Last One We'd Expect, or why we reconnect with an old love in the middle of a botched kidnapping, or get a serendipitous career boost when our job is at its lowest point. Whether it's acts of Chance, acts of Choice, or acts of Fate, the doors seem to open and close when we're not watching them.
Not all of the storylines click -- I could have done without most of the crime stuff and Colm Meaney's would-be-celebrity cop plot. It's actually the movie's Bullet Comedy tendencies that drag it down; it's almost as if Crowley didn't have enough faith in the movie's character elements to allow them to stand on their own. What he doesn't seem to understand -- or what he's chosen to ignore -- is that the majority of films in this genre use bullets and punchlines (or bullets as punchlines) as a means of gaining ironic distance. Intermission displays its heart too proudly on its sleeve to have any of that distance -- the movie is too sincere to concern itself solely with Being Cool. Perhaps he wasn't sure such a dark and grungy film could work as a romantic comedy; after all, there hasn't necessarily been much of a precedent -- most grimy Irish movies are Neil Jordan / Alan Parker / Mike Leigh dramas, and when they're comedies (The Full Monty, for example), griminess is part of the point. Here's hoping that he's got the boys-with-guns stuff out of his system and can ditch it altogether on his next time out.
Of course, I'm torn -- without any of the crime story, there may not have been a place in the movie for Colin Farrell, who is (in this reviewer's opinion) often overrated and seldom delivers. In fact, in theaters as we speak, Farrell is drowning the abyss that is Oliver Stone's Alexander. Intermission, however, is a perfect example of the types of roles Farrell should be taking. He gives the film a manic charge whenever he's on screen, and keeps everyone -- especially the audience -- on their toes; it's Farrell's best work to date. His performance is rivaled only by Shirley Henderson, whose role as an extremely damaged girl coping with unsightly facial hair provides both the film's most touching character and its best story. Henderson is what's at the heart of Intermission.
First-time director John Crowley shows a great deal of promise as a filmmaker, though he could stand to develop a more personal style to match his writing. It's disappointing to see that he's opted to shoot in jittery handheld as substitute for an actual visual style, constantly zooming in and out (think NYPD Blue) to add artificial edge and amped-up energy where it's not really needed -- the dialogue and performances are already taking care of that. It's a common trap that many novice filmmakers fall into (and this isn't counting the legions of first-timers who come directly from the world of music videos, who don't know any better and most likely never will) -- forcing a "look" onto the film regardless of whether or not it helps tell the story. At least the handheld video approach allows Crowley the freedom to get in close on his actors, giving the film a sense of intimacy that once again distinguishes it from the contemporary caper comedies that inspired the director.
MGM releases Intermission with little fanfare -- fitting for such an unassuming film. It's presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. That the film was shot on video and used a great deal of available natural light in its photography provides its own set of inherent problems in the picture quality, but nothing that should distract from viewing; all things considered, the image is pretty good. The only available audio option is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which, as one would expect, sounds strong. There are also English subtitles available, which can come in handy when some of the accents get particularly thick (as a side note, it's rather refreshing to hear dialogue written predominantly in genuine Irish slang -- it's not some screenwriter's overwritten or Americanized conceit). A couple of forgettable deleted scenes and trailers are the disc's only extras.
Intermission isn't entirely original, but it's got a genuine soft spot and kinetic energy to spare -- it's alive. It's not the kind of movie that ever achieves greatness -- there's nothing transcendent about it -- but it does what it does very well. At a time when the majority of films can't even deliver on their own modest promises, Intermission is a small movie that works.
Not guilty; Brown Sauce for everyone. Try it in the coffee.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site
* Independent Film Channel: Intermission