The Gangster film as a genre is one of formula. Like any other genre, there are standards and tropes we come to expect to be in most, if the not all, of the films. There is the innocent guy generally with a girl to protect. He has a set amount of time to get either a product or money to a crime boss. The crime boss is generally not introduced until about a third of the way through the film but his legend is established in other characters conversations. And there are usually a couple of henchmen who do the dirty work for the main boss.
The origins of the gangster film is American with the 1912 film The Musketeers of Pig Alley by DW Griffith one of the earliest examples. The American gangster film sits proudly alongside the Western as one of America’s finest contributions to film history. What is very interesting is when the genre is subverted or filtered through another country’s culture. The most obvious examples in the US are Quentin Tarantino’s 1990s films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and Guy Richie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in the UK.
The main problem with the films listed above is not with the films themselves but rather the influence of them on films that came after. In the US in the 1990s there were a lot of films described as Tarantinoesque which were nothing but a pale imitation of his filmic style. In the UK it has been arguably worse. While Lock Stock is no masterpiece, it stands as a towering achievement when stood beside some of the quite appalling films that came after. But what flows through the US to the UK will inevitably flow into Ireland as well. And it is this flow which brings us to Perrier’s Bounty.
Perrier’s Bounty is directed by talented Irish filmmaker Ian Fitzgibbon (Death of a Superhero) and written by Mark O Rowe (Intermission, Boy A). It possesses a heavyweight cast including Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Cunningham and Jim Broadbent. There is a serious pedigree here. The plot is a fairly basic one. Michael McCrea (Murphy) has a day to return money owed to gang boss Darren Perrier (Gleeson). Add to this mix, his father (Broadbent) - who turns up to make peace with him - and Perrier’s two henchmen (nicely played by Don Wycherly and Michael Mc Elhatton) who are a constant threat. The film is set up within the classic gangster structure.
First thing to say and it pains me to say it a little as I had heard good things, this film is a mess from start to finish. It falls into the familiar trap of the post Tarantino generation of having every character sound exactly the same. All the characters talk in a quite frankly bizarre way, spurting forth with cod philosophy at every turn for no real reason. It starts to grate 20 minutes in and by the end of the film you are almost pleading with them through the screen to stop talking. This is a serious flaw and a real pity as there are some good lines of dialogue throughout. It is just that they should only have come from one character. Instead they all just came from the screenwriter.
The acting throughout the film is uneven with Murphy playing it like his heart isn’t in it. Cunningham does the best overall with not much to go on. He has become one of our great character actors and should have really been a bigger star than he is. His delivery of a great line is one the films few highlights. Looking a woman up and down in a bar he describes her as ‘dirty, like a bag of carrots’. Gleeson is ok, but he has done this thing before in better films than this. My heart weeps for Broadbent who is comically miscast. His bizarre accent, swaying between English and Irish is absurd. One wonders what possessed him to take the part. There is also a slightly cringe worthy narration from Gabriel Byrne, the purpose of which is to seemingly mock film narration. It doesn’t work. All it does is call to mind narrations that work such as Sam Elliott’s in The Big Lebowski.
Overall, Perrier’s Bounty is not worth the effort to see it. Rowe’s previous screenplay Intermission makes better use of his writing talents. This is a muddled film, caught between aping the 1990s English gangster film and trying to add something through an Irish filter. It succeeds at neither. All involved have gone on to bigger and better things and for that, one imagines, they can breathe a sigh of relief after making this film.