I remember quite well the general reaction from people when I first mentioned that I was going to write a blog on Irish film: from the usual ‘that should take up five minutes of your time’ reaction to the genuinely puzzled ‘why?’ Sadly the overwhelming reaction was that it would be like shooting fish in a barrel, putting the boot into all the bad Irish films that have been made. There were reasons to think this. Irish film doesn’t have a great reputation with Irish people and some of that is deserved. But my intention was to try and seek out good films that may have been discarded and hopefully get people to see films that they otherwise would not. This was to me a lofty; if naïve, idea to be honest but I felt that there was no point in sneering at Irish films as it has been done to death. I tried to find good things to say about films even if, as a whole, the films themselves didn’t work. In a word I wanted to be reasonable. And then I watched The Tiger’s Tail.
Of course I had heard that it was a troubled film and that the reviews had been less than favourable. But as I scrolled through my DVR and saw it sitting there I thought why not? It was directed by the great John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance) and starred Brendan Gleeson. They were the team behind the rather wonderful The General eight years previously. It was also supposed to take aim at the relentless consumerism that the now waning Celtic Tiger had helped create. Surely it couldn’t be as bad as its reputation suggests?
I have yet to see all the Irish films ever made so I cannot call The Tiger’s Tail the worst Irish film ever made. But what I can say for certainty is that it the worst, most offensive Irish film that I have ever seen. The plot goes like this - Gleeson plays Liam, a man who seems to have it all: a successful property business, a glamorous wife (Kim Cattrall) and the respect he has always craved. His life starts to unravel when he sees a double of himself. It is not long before his double starts to try and take over his life.
Oh where to even begin with the problems. Apparently it is a black comedy but on viewing, one could only think scenes were added in editing as the drama was so bad. The film is neither funny nor dramatic. Gleeson throws himself into this but he is uncomfortable throughout. The risible script seems to be why as he delivers lines that you know he can’t quite believe he is saying. There are heavy-handed scenes that are supposed to reflect the consumerist times we live in but they are just so over the top as to be scarcely credible. The Temple Bar scene resembles the seventh circle of hell, the A&E scene, the same. This approach of bludgeoning the viewer loses any sense of what the filmmaker is trying to say. You would think that a director of Boorman’s stature would know when to rein it in. But this film has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. There is an unscrupulous dodgy politician called Bertie in it for Christ’s sake. As for Kim Cattrall - this makes the casting of Julia Roberts in Michael Collins seem like a masterstroke. Her accent is mid Atlantic Dublin whatever the hell that is. In fairness, her part is not even on the page.
All of this would be just about forgivable if it wasn’t for one of the most unpleasant scenes I have ever watched in a film. Liam’s double comes home pretending to be Liam and essentially rapes his wife. She fights at first and then seems to accept the inevitable and indeed eventually enjoys it. This is grotesque enough but then the film adds in the post coital conversation where he offends her and she slaps him. He slaps her back quite forcefully across the face and she looks shocked but then laughs and smiles because she deserves it. This is a spectacularly offensive scene and one of the most misjudged I have ever come across. If this all seems like I am giving away spoilers it is because I am. Nobody should have to sit through this. The Tiger’s Tail should in fact now be the litmus test for bad Irish films. If you can somehow get through it, you can watch anything.
If this seems too mean and a bit like shooting fish in a barrel well so be it. But this matters! It matters when the Irish Film Board’s money is put into something like this. Whatever about a Return on Investment there should be at least someone reading the goddamn script and saying ‘hold on a minute’. By the look of the film I could only imagine it wasn’t pocket money that was invested. In a time when a terrific low budget film like Tin Can Man (see previous review) cannot even find any distribution it is shameful at best and downright irresponsible at worst that this is how money was invested. There are a lot of micro budget films out there that even small amounts of money could help in a real way. That is the real shame of The Tiger’s Tail.