Friday, October 2, 2009

Internal Contradictions

So this is what it’s come to for the great John Boorman, director of POINT BLANK and DELIVERANCE, now making a film that gets no theatrical release in the States, not even a token opening in a few art houses. That particular film would be THE TIGER’S TAIL starring Brendan Gleeson and Kim Cattrall. I guess it was decided that even the presence of Cattrall wouldn’t get people to see it and really, I can’t imagine that fans of Samantha Jones would be all that excited about this film no matter what. I could also believe that the film’s focus on the current state of Ireland, something American audiences would have little to no awareness of, could have been as much of a reason for the lack of an opening as well. It was released in the UK at the time it was made in ’06 and I can imagine that it’s been spending the past few years waiting, hoping for some kind of theatrical release that never came. THE TIGER’S TAIL has its strong points and is consistently intriguing, but it never quite connects, ultimately feeling a little too minor and too unwilling to commit to a consistent tone that would make it seem of a complete piece. Boorman fans certainly will find elements of interest, but it just remains too frustrating in the end with maybe too much of the director going over old ground instead of saying something new. He certainly wouldn’t be the first director to do this, but it’s still a case where what he has to say doesn’t seem to warrant an entire film around it.

Wealthy Irish property developer Liam O’Leary (Brendan Gleeson) who has a loving but dissatisfied wife Jane (Kim Cattrall) and brooding, possibly communist son Declan (Briain Gleeson, real-life son of Brendan) is being honored for all his accomplishments just as he is becoming aware that his plans to build a huge stadium are being thwarted. Feeling anguish and uncertainty, he begins to believe that he is seeing his exact double on several occasions. With no one else seeing this mysterious double it is a reasonable assumption to think that it’s all in his head, but when he begins investigating these strange occurrences it leads to secrets from his past being revealed and his present life sent spiraling out of control in a way he could never have seen coming.

To the credit of THE TIGER’S TAIL it manages to continually reveal new and unexpected layers throughout, both in plot and approach. Even when the answer to the film’s initial mystery is revealed, the answer to which would be one of several possibilities for anyone watching (I’ll be careful with spoilers here--suffice it to say that Gleeson does play what is basically two characters), the direction it then heads in is still somewhat surprising and continues to be throughout. Even near the end when certain things are resolved it’s done in such a matter-of-fact way the way things seem to happen from what the characters have experienced instead of boiling over into a huge climax is actually rather refreshing. It’s never entirely clear for long stretches what kind of film THE TIGER’S TAIL even is—Mystery? Noir? Existential drama? Comedy? Deadpan satire? All of the above? This is in no way a bad thing, but in a better film the fact that this question is never quite answered wouldn’t matter. When these conflicting tones of THE TIGER’S TAIL don’t seem to resolve each other it winds up feeling like any investment we’ve placed in the story isn’t being rewarded and as a result the movie just seems to fizzle away.

With much discussion of the nature of a man’s soul, the question of who he really is and an awareness of how this world is changing around him, by a certain point it feels like the only way to read THE TIGER’S TAIL is as a personal exploration by writer/director Boorman of what kind of man he is, where he has come from and what his beloved city of Dublin has turned into. The city in question is portrayed as breaking down with roads where no traffic moves, partying teenage girls puking in the street as well as a newspaper headline saying that Ireland has the “Greatest Rich-Poor Divide In Europe”. His predicament leads O’Leary to close contact with the city’s homeless, essentially becoming one of them eventually in the film’s pursuit to show how his losing everything essentially gains him back his soul but trying to connect O’Leary’s fears with the financial state of Dublin comes off as muddled. Surprisingly, the focus on O’Leary being caught between his alienated family and the homeless that he has spent his life avoiding actually makes it a slight reworking of his forgotten 1990 comedy WHERE THE HEART IS—maybe he finally wanted to solve the problems of that film but in some ways they’re still there. There are a number of plausibility issues in the wobbly story and though the film seems meant to be a sort of fable which doesn’t subscribe to realism if it were better then such problems wouldn’t be an issue. It’s not a bad film, but it is a frustrating one.

Ultimately, THE TIGER’S TAIL has a number of elements of interest but it feels too allegorical in regards to certain subjects floating around in the director’s head, so much so that it never quite becomes satisfying. Some of it is also unpleasant as well, particularly in its disrespectful treatment of the wife played by Kim Cattrall which comes off as rather misogynist in a number of ways (I could imagine people having a problem with one scene in particular). The film’s end also leaves certain elements dangling, uncompleted to such a degree that the final shot forces us to reconsider what the entire thing is even about—thematically, not in a plot twist kind of way—and if what happens at the end was ever meant to be a rewarding revelation of how certain characters feel about each other, it doesn’t come off.

Brendan Gleeson is a very good actor but I’m not sure that this is one of his best performances. Yes, he is able to differentiate between the two people he is playing but it feels like it’s done in a fairly simplistic way, maybe unsure of the right tone, like putting on a more gravelly voice. Unlike certain other actors in the past who have played dual roles like Jeremy Irons and Nicolas Cage, you can feel how hard he’s working at it, diluting the effect as a result. Kim Cattrall isn’t bad and has some nice moments, but she’s saddled with an unfortunate Irish accent (didn’t she spend some time growing up in England?) as well as a script that doesn’t seem to have much respect for her character. The film’s best performance is easily given by Sinéad Cusack as Gleeson’s sister, someone with the biggest secrets which wind up affecting the plot greatly and she has such soul in her screen presence that she winds up responsible for most of the emotional effect that the film winds up having. Ciarán Hinds, a very good actor, feels slightly wasted in the role of Gleeson’s priest friend.

The film was shot with the digital Genesis camera with appears to give a greater looseness during some street scenes as well as some nice looks at the nighttime city skyline. But the digital look gives it all a slightly cheaper feel than it should have, at least on DVD, and the format just doesn’t seem right for this director. All throughout I kept thinking of all the beautiful looking films Boorman has made in the past which were shot on celluloid, another way that this film feels like it somehow falls short of what he’s capable of. Of course, at 76 it feels heartening that he’s still getting films made at all. While THE TIGER’S TAIL has elements that make it worth a look and it does fit in thematically with some of the director’s other works—this is definitely no piece of hackery—it’s hard not to wish that the end result were better, more enriching. John may not still have another POINT BLANK, DELIVERANCE or THE EMERALD FOREST in him but as long as he’s still in there getting films made, we can still hope.



Mr. Peel, THE FUTURIST! has a vague memory of this Boorman flick playing at one theater in Manhattan in the Summer of 2008. One of the stills you posted was definitely spied in a review in a New York newspaper by yours truly. However, searching through Google and the NYTimes archives, no review can be found. THE FUTURIST! may be deluded.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Maybe not deluded--maybe it had some kind of museum or festival screening. Or maybe it really did open somewhere, very quietly. Anyway, I couldn't find any record of it playing in the U.S. The Variety review dates from around the time of the U.K. opening. Hmm--I wonder what happened.

Captain Terrific said...

This did get a festival screening this past April in San Francisco. I missed it, adding to the list yet another unseen Boorman made since BEYOND RANGOON. For shame! But, yes, it is good to know the man is still working and if his WIZARD OF OZ movie actually happens, I will be there.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Captain Terrific--

The one recent Boorman film I haven't seen is IN MY COUNTRY, which at least got a small release back in 2005. The idea of him doing a new version of THE WIZARD OF OZ seems, well, strange. I guess we'll find out.