Monday, January 09, 2006

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO - find love, look beautiful, dodge the IRA

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO is another cracking film from Neil Jordan, director of The Crying Game, The End of the Affair, Interview with a Vampire, and the cult-classic, In the Company of Wolves. Covering some of the same thematic territory as The Crying Game - notably political violence and sexual identity - BREAKFAST ON PLUTO is altogether sweeter, and happier in tone. However, alongside the moments of hysterical laughter are interludes of shocking brutality. It is a strength of the film that it can move seamlessly between the two extremes - from brutality to farce - summing up the twin aspects of the "Northern Irish troubles".

The film is an extensive re-working of the novel of the same name by Patrick McCabe, whose work Neil Jordan has previously adapted for the screen. The novel tells the story of Patrick "Kitten" Brady. Kitten was abandoned by his mother on the doorstep of a Catholic Church in Ireland and grew up during the 1970s. All he wants is to be loved and to look pretty. To that end, he goes to London to try and find the mother that abandoned him. On the way, he gets involved with the IRA, the British police, magicians, prostitutes, and other sundry ne'er-do-wells. But he never looses his identity, no matter how brutalising current events.

Cillian Murphy's central perfomance as Patrick "Kitten" Brady is worthy of its Golden Globe nomination. But while his role does provoke belly-laughter, I would have put his performance in the Drama category rather than in the Musical/Comedy category. This is because Kitten is not funny in order to make us laugh. She is funny because if she didn't laugh she would "start crying and never stop". This is as much a story about survival. At the violent hands of the IRA and the British police, Kitten never drops her trans-sexual identity, and the farce of it all shames both the IRA and the rozzers into backing down.

Neil Jordan commented in the Q&A session after the screening that he makes so many films about trans-sexuals because identity was a such a key issue growing up in Ireland. You were defined as a nationalist, a republican, a Catholic, a revisionist - and these tags were inescapable. By contrast, Patrick Brady has created his own identity - which happens to be that of a girl called Kitten. Once in that character, he is never "on" or "off" but inhabits it wholesale. Like Tommy the Clown, he wears his face-paint to the funeral.

In addition, one could read this film as a damning indictment of the war on terror, and on the terrorist project itself. Not that Jordan claims to have made an overtly political film, but he is conscious any films with political over-tones released in the US is now seen as a searing indictment of the Bush administration. Jordan draws a parallel between the culture wars in the US right now and Thatcherite Britain. In the '80s, any vaguely intelligent movie was a searing indictment of ruthless capitalism. He claims his film does not fall into such a narrow political categorisation.

What else is there to like about this film? Plenty. Wonderful production design that takes us back to the '70s on a limited budget. Perfectly constructed cameos from Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson, the Wombles, and somewhat improbably, Bryan Ferry. A break-out supporting actress performance by Ruth Negga as Kitten's best friend. And finally, a great sound-track full of 70s classics - most notably the Harry Nilson song - "You're breaking my heart / You're tearing it apart / So f*ck you." This sound-track is more than just a Cameron Crowe-style nostalgic mix-tape: rather, it is a soundtrack that amplifies the story at every turn.

Not that there aren't flaws with this movie. For a start, the picaresque format sometimes leaves us wondering when we'll get back on track toward Kitten's goal of finding his mum. There are a couple of segments that could have been edited out with little harm to the movie, but then again, it is a brave director, who having hired Bryan Ferry and Stephen Rea, will leave them on the cutting room floor. So, overall, while not up there with Brokeback, there are few better films currently showing at your cineplex. Go check it out. And remember you're a Womble.

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO was scheduled for release at Cannes in 2005, but wasn't ready until Telluride and Toronto in September. It went on limited release in the US in November and is released in the UK on the 13th January. There is no scheduled release date for Germany, Austria or France.

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