The Butcher Boy (1997)
Directed by Neil Jordan
Cast: Eomann Owens, Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw, Alan Boyle, Andrew Fullerton, Aisling O'Sullivan, Sinead O'Connor, Ian Hart, Milo O'Shea.
1997 111 minutes
Rated: (for violence, gore, and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 15, 1998.
I have always been a fan of director Neil Jordan, from his early work, such as 1984's "The Company of Wolves," to 1992's "The Crying Game," and 1994's "Interview With a Vampire." His latest film, "The Butcher Boy," is a return to his roots in Ireland, but unfortunately, it is not a successful homecoming.
Told through the eyes of a 12-year-old Irish boy, Francis (newcomer Eomann Owens), this peculiar film follows him as we learn a little about his decidedly unstable life. His father (Stephen Rea) is an indifferent alcoholic, his mother (Fiona Shaw) is mentally ill and always in and out of hospitals, and Francis himself delights in terrorizing the mother of one of his friends after he is forbidden to see him anymore. Francis is the type of boy who always has a lot to say, but mostly fluctuates between sarcasm and frightening honesty, and it quickly becomes apparent that he may very well be a little psychotic, even capable of brutal murder.
The premise of, "The Butcher Boy," is one that could have very well been turned into a thought-provoking, disturbing motion picture, but somehow nothing works. Francis is in almost every scene, but we learn very little about him, as if the film was distancing itself away from him when, I suspect, we were actually supposed to sympathize with him. This is definately not young Owens fault, however, because he gives a brilliantly accurate performance, and is able to also seem menacing as well. The fact that we don't get close to his character is because of the sloppy screenplay.
The supporting characters are no help, though. Rea is wasted, and has practically no scenes where he actually talks to his son, or to anyone else for that matter. He usually seems to just be sitting watching the television throughout. Shaw has a little bit more to work with, since she has one touching scene in which she talks to Francis in a time of despair, but is out of the picture just as we are beginning to know her. And singer Sinead O'Connor appears rather effectively as the Virgin Mary who occasionally gives Francis advice.
The pacing is all off in, "The Butcher Boy." Although the story could have been dynamite, it moves at a deadeningly slow rate, and I found my mind wandering every once in a while. It is also very episodic, because the developments in the story fly by with no satisfying payoffs. At one point, Francis is sent away to a juvenile prison, and an odd, possibly sexual relationship begins to develop between a priest and himself, but nothing comes of it.
I'd rather think of, "The Butcher Boy," as a brief diversion for director Jordan, rather than a total misfire. He has already proven to be a strong director, but he lucked out with this latest film. What could have been a courageous, unsettling character study of an emotionally disturbed young boy, only manages to be an ineffective, uninvolivng bore.
© by Dustin Putman