After reviewing The Guard last week and then hearing about how successful it is in Irish cinemas I decided to look back and review the film it most reminded me of, I Went Down. Paddy Breathnach's film, written by playwright Conor Mc Pherson was a box office success in Ireland back in 1997 (I saw it in the cinema myself) so I went online to see if I could buy a copy. Lo and behold it is not available to buy on DVD. Readers of my blog will know that I bemoaned the lack of a DVD release for How to Cheat In The Leaving Certificate in a previous review but to some degree I could understand this, it is a shame but it is not as well known as I Went Down. But this is a national disgrace, when will sink in that we will never get people to watch Irish films in a consistent way if they cannot even buy a copy of films that are released. Don't forget this film had a successful run at the Irish box office. The Irish Film Board and BBC films really need to get their act together and release this film. There is even a facebook campaign to get it released and I urge you to sign up to it. Suffice to say, that I managed to 'obtain' a copy of the film online to watch and review but really it should not have to come to this.
The film's plot is relatively simple. A couple of days after getting out of prison Git (Peter Mc Donald) intercedes in an argument his friend Anto (David Wilmot) is having with dodgy bookies about gambling debts he owes. Git breaks a bottle and disfigures one of the bookies who turns out to be working for local gangster Tom French (Tony Doyle). To make it right he has to go to Cork to bring back an associate of French's called Frank (Peter Caffrey). French tells him to go down with one of the others who work for him, Bunny Kelly (Brendan Gleeson) and that Anto will stay with him as hostage until it is done. This is the set up for a classic Hollywood style buddy/road movie, in the style of Midnight Run.
The film itself is a small classic. Beautifully shot by Cian de Buitléar with lots of wide shots of a stunning Irish countryside at the magic hour, the films look is far superior to its budget. It is primarily a comedy with an undercurrent of melancholy running through it. Gleeson is brilliant and can do these parts in his sleep, initially he plays Bunny as a buffoon but in Mc Pherson's sharp and layered script he is revealed as quite a vulnerable character. But the real star of this film for me is Peter Mc Donald, who's character Git is the heart of the film, sad and stoic to what life can throw at him. All of the cast excel, with a special mention for the late Tony Doyle as the Mr. French who has some of the best lines in the film which I will not spoil here.
There is perhaps one scene that the film could have easily lost which is an extended period flashback explaining the background relationship between Frank and Mr. French. It is unconvincing and not needed at all in the overall context. The title of the film itself is open to interpretation of meaning. There is obviously a sexual connotation which is alluded to at the very end of the film, but it also refers to Git going to prison and both Git and Bunny's trip down to Cork which changes both of them. I Went Down is a funny, touching and beautiful film which achieves what The Guard did not, a completely successful marrying of comedic tone, visual style, and strong direction and which also happens to be a rich character study. Just don't be expecting to see it anytime soon unfortunately.
Update: I Went Down is now available to buy on DVD. Alas lots of Irish films still are not.