The Butcher Boy (1998)

The Butcher Boy (video box)Starring Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw, Alan Boyle, Aisling O'Sullivan, and Sinéad O'Connor.
Screenplay by Patrick McCabe and Neil Jordan, based on the novel by Patrick McCabe.
Directed by Neil Jordan.

Grade: C

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

With The Butcher Boy, Neil Jordan brings to the big screen a faithful (I'm told) adaptation of the Patrick McCabe novel of the same name, about how an Irish boy becomes a violent murderer. In the beginning, the boy, Francie Brady, appears quite normal, with perhaps a bit of a mean streak. As Francie absorbs the horrors of the world around him, his actions become more twisted and his mind more disconnected from reality. Newcomer Eamonn Owens is outstanding as Francie Brady. Never before an actor, he delivers a fresh, believable performance. Neil Jordan regular Stephen Rea plays Francie Brady's alcoholic father and Aisling O'Sullivan is Francie's suicidal mother. The movie also features Alan Boyle as Joe, Francie's best friend until Francie alienates even him, and Fiona Shaw as the mean Mrs. Nugent, the focus of Francie's malice. Sinéad O'Connor appears as a foul-mouthed Irish Virgin Mary in Francie's visions.

The Butcher Boy movie posterI'm not quite sure how to critique The Butcher Boy. Creatively directed, well-acted, and based on a fascinating story, The Butcher Boy has all the elements of a superb film. But it isn't. Despite its gripping subject matter, The Butcher Boy fails to actually be gripping. Only in retrospect is it interesting to think about how Francie's mind slowly fell apart. Francie's descent into madness is so gradual that, without knowing what the movie is about beforehand, we do not suspect that Francie is mentally ill until the story is quite advanced. We are left to wonder what the point is for far too long. Sure, Francie comes from a dysfunctional family, his parents don't love him enough, his father's an alcoholic, etcetera, etcetera, but for a great part of the movie Francie just seems like a loud obnoxious kid with a big head. In short, Francie fails to elicit any sympathy until it's too late to save the movie.

Although the script is not judgmental in the least, you might find yourself coming to your own verdict early on and wishing they would just lock Francie up and throw away the key. (You might also occasionally find yourself wishing for subtitles.) If the story doesn't sustain much narrative momentum and none of the characters elicit much sympathy, there is little to recommend a movie no matter how well it's filmed or acted.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
© 1997 Warner Bros.

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