Petty Crooks Beguile in Irish ‘Down’
“I Went Down” is one of those droll little Irish comedies that start out in such a low gear it risks tedium before finally kicking into high. When it does it becomes clearer as to what all the fuss has been about, for it became the highest-grossing independent Irish film ever.
It’s hard to see how it could give another charmer, “The Full Monty,” a run for its money, but there’s no denying that this bit of blarney, concocted by writer Conor McPherson and directed by Paddy Breathnach, is ultimately beguiling.
As in “The Full Monty” we’re treated to a screen full of fairly ordinary men who reveal various quirks and vulnerabilities. Whereas “The Full Monty” guys turned to stripping in the face of dire unemployment, “I Went Down’s” are petty criminals. Actually, its young hero Git (Peter McDonald) is no criminal at all. Fate, however, propelled him wrongly into an eight-month prison term, and now Git’s concern in doing the right thing by his trouble-prone best pal Anto--never mind that Anto (David Wilmot) has stolen Git’s girl--has led him to make Dublin crime boss Tom French (Tony Doyle) seriously angry.
So outraged in fact that he orders Git to go down to Cork and pick up 25,000 pounds from French’s onetime partner Frank Grogan (Peter Caffrey) and deliver Grogan to an associate known only as “a friendly face.” Accompanying Git will be Bunny Kelly (Brendan Gleeson), a 40ish small-time crook whom French has under his thumb.
Git and Bunny are very different men, and a generation apart. Twentysomething Git is handsome, sober and highly principled. Bunny is a seasoned, beefy, red-headed middle-aged guy with scythe-like sideburns that make him look silly. What the two have in common--and what will make them so finally appealing--is that both are just intelligent enough to realize that they haven’t been smart enough to stay out of various troubles yet capable of regretting the consequences of their foolishness.
Once Git and Bunny hit the road and all those Irish bogs, “I Went Down” threatens to bog down itself as they meander all over the countryside. At 108 minutes it’s hard to see how the film couldn’t have benefited from some deft trimming, especially for American audiences, who are conditioned to expecting a livelier pace. But “I Went Down” gathers steam as its string of funny incidents start accumulating with greater frequency, and Grogan at last becomes a part of the action.
Grogan, bless him, is an easygoing nonstop talker and therefore a source of much humor, and Git and Bunny come to realize that the long history between Frank and Tom is so complex and treacherous that it could prove dangerous indeed for one and all. (In a way, “I Went Down” is a less complex “Miller’s Crossing.”)
In the meantime, we become acquainted with Git and especially Bunny, who proves to be the most likable of crooks. Bunny is miserable over a bad patch in his 12-year marriage, and he never wants to go back to prison. But you have to wonder if he is capable of surviving outside the world of crime, just as you have to wonder whether Git can extricate himself from that same world before it’s too late.
The way “I Went Down,” with its lovely score, plays out under Breathnach’s gentle, compassionate touch becomes wryly amusing, ironic and entirely satisfying. Its cast is a glory, adept at setting off a sly humor with a touch of pathos, and it brings to the fore Brendan Gleeson, so good in so many supporting parts, as a seriocomic powerhouse in the central role.
* MPAA rating: R, for pervasive strong language, some sexuality and violence. Times guidelines: Although presented in a humorous context, the film’s R-rated elements make it unsuitable for most children.
‘I Went Down’
Brendan Gleeson: Bunny Kelly
Peter McDonald: Git Hynes
Peter Caffrey: Frank Grogan
Tony Doyle: Tom French
A TSG (The Shooting Gallery) Pictures release of a BBC Films/Irish Film Board presentation in association with Radio Telfis Eirann and Euskal Media of a Treasure Films production. Director Paddy Breathnach. Producer Robert Walpole. Executive producers Mark Shivas, David Collins, Rod Stoneman. Screenplay by Conor McPherson. Cinematographer Cian de Buitlear. Editor Emer Reynolds. Costumes Kathy Strachan. Music Dario Marianelli. Production designer Zoe MacLeod. Art director Tom McCullagh. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
* At selected theaters in Los Angeles and Orange counties.