Neil Jordan, famed for such hits as Michael Collins and The Crying Game, returns to a much more conventional style of filmmaking. This time he leaves out the stars: no Liam Neeson, no Aidan Quinn, no Julia Roberts. This time it's cinema verite: a sotto-voce cast (barring Stephen Rea) which takes the mind off the actors and onto the film.
Which is good, because the film is a ripsnorter. It's a powerful expose on how children can turn out horribly wrong through a tough childhood. There is no fancy cinematography or cutesy-pie moments; no Hollywood endings or Schwarzenegger stick-ups. This is pure black comedy which relies on a fabulous script.
It revolves around the life of Francie Brady, a young Irish boy who gets up to all sorts of mischief. Him and his friend, Joe, are the local troublemakers in Dublin. But, there's more to Francie than one would think. His is a soul which is black at the core, and the passing of prominent figures in his life, as well as time spent in and out of juvenile detention centres, plus the dirty priests which govern the schools, sends the boy over the edge.
He paints a picture of hyperbole. Francie always seems happy, energetic and ready for action, yet boiling up inside of him are bloody demons and unimaginable violence. It's that hyperbole which creates so much tension in the movie, just wondering what he'll do and when he'll do it.
The film is narrated by an older Francie, one who has spent his life in a prison for the mentally insane. His narration is humorous and ironic, yet occasionally it derives some of the power from the movie because of its light-hearted, schmultzy comments. Francie sometimes talks to his older self, making one remember "Ferris Beuler's Day Off", but apart from that, the film is fantastic.
It lags in parts. Occasional scenes are drawn out and lengthy, and you just want to scream out, "pick up the damn butcher's knife and kill someone!" To make the film increase in pace. But that's not a major problem, that might just be my attention span, if you didn't have those scenes you wouldn't have such a poignant movie.
The Butcher Boy has a very satisfactory denouement. We all took our childhood for granted. It had its ups, it had its downs. This is a film which portrays what sort of childhood arises from continuous downs, dominated by misery and loss, and how much of an effect it can have on such an impressionable mind. This is a wonderful, black, violent, dramatic and hilarious movie. A rare offering, indeed.
Nine out of ten.