Irish Eye on Hollywood

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
December / January 2006

From PS I Love You to the latest gangster movie, the Irish are well represented in upcoming movies, writes Tom Deignan.

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Irish and Irish-American talent is very well represented on the November and December holiday movie schedule.

Mid-November offers the release of two movies by legendary Irish directors. First there’s Jim Sheridan’s gritty Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Then there’s Neil Jordan’s latest movie Breakfast on Pluto. Jordan’s film stars red hot Irish actor Cillian Murphy (fresh off summer blockbuster roles in Batman Begins and Red Eye) as well as Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson. Breakfast on Pluto was shot in Kilkenny, Glenavy and Belfast last year.

In the film Murphy plays Patrick “Kitten” Braden, an endearing but deceptively tough young man. Abandoned as a baby in his small Irish hometown and aware from an early age that he is different, Patrick survives on his wit and charm. Based on the Patrick McCabe novel of the same name, Patrick “Kitten” Braden’s extraordinary tale plays out during an especially tumultuous period in Ireland’s political violence. This is Jordan’s second gender-bending IRA themed film. The first, of course, was the groundbreaking Crying Game, released in the fall of 1992, which was nominated for six Academy Awards and gained Jordan one for Best Original Screenplay.

Murphy, meanwhile, is still set to play the starring role in The Wind that Shakes the Barley from famous British independent director Ken Loach. The film, set for 2006 release, will also star Irish actor Liam Cunningham (The Card Player, Do Soldiers).

Director Loach’s longtime collaborator Paul Laverty (the son of an Irish mother and Scottish father) will handle screen-writing duties.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, set in 1919, tells the story of two brothers who sign on to wage guerilla war against the infamous British Black and Tan security squads.

December, meanwhile, will present a big role for another young Irish star, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Perhaps best known in Hollywood for playing the Irish coach in the U.K. smash Bend It Like Beckham, the Cork native also wowed American TV audiences earlier this year by playing Elvis Presley in a CBS mini-series.

On Christmas Day, look for Rhys Meyers, as well as Northern Ireland actor James Nesbitt, to appear in Woody Allen’s latest film Match Point.

Nesbitt and Rhys Meyers star, along with Scarlett Johansson. Set in England, Match Point revolves around a young tennis instructor (Meyers) who is teaching a member of an upper crust British family. So he begins to see a whole new world of wealth and sophistication. Amidst these class conflicts there’s a romantic involvement with not one but two women. Match Point received rave reviews when it premiered at Cannes.

Also slated for a Christmas season release is the latest film from Irish American writer-director-actress Bonnie Hunt, a sequel to the 2000 remake of the 1950 classic Cheaper by the Dozen. Steve Martin also stars.

Hunt is a Chicago native who has three brothers (Tom, Kevin and Patrick) and three sisters (Carol, Kathy and Mary). She starred in her own TV show briefly after writing and directing the 1999 romantic comedy Return to Me, in which legendary Irish-American actor Caroll O’Connor played an Irish immigrant in a role Hunt said she patterned after her own dad.

In Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Martin and Hunt play the harried parents of a large clan. They go on vacation and come across a very competitive family as large as theirs, headed by famed character actor and SCTV alum Eugene Levy.

Irish authors continue to inspire filmmakers, with a number of movies in production based on the works of Irish writers.

It’s not enough that Cecelia Ahern is the daughter of the Irish prime minister. She also has found great success in publishing, and now Hollywood.

Hugh Jackman is slated to star in an upcoming adaptation of an Ahern novel called If You Could See Me Now. Disney Pictures chose to jump on the project, even before this novel by Ahern, which hits the bookstores this January, was actually published.

Another Ahern novel (which was an international best seller) PS: I Love You is being made into a film by Warner Brothers.

A novel by Irish-American scribe Dennis Lehane was the inspiration for the gloomy Clint Eastwood masterpiece Mystic River. Now, actor and tabloid favorite Ben Affleck is hoping Lehane works the same magic for his own budding directorial career. Affleck has reportedly signed on to direct a film called Gone, Baby, Gone, based on a Lehane novel.

The film is about a pair of working-class private detectives searching for a missing child. Naturally, the film will be shot in Boston, native turf for both Affleck and Lehane.

Also, an Irish film of Maeve Binchy’s beloved novel Tara Road was recently released in Ireland and the U.K. Starring Andie McDowell, as well as acclaimed Irish actor Stephen Rea, the film received somewhat lukewarm reviews. Perhaps that’s why there is no U.S. release date for the film just yet. Still, given Binchy’s massive popularity, and even her Hollywood track record (back in the 1990s, Circle of Friends was well-received in the U.S.) it is likely that Tara Road will eventually find a distributor on this side of the pond.

Finally, going back a few centuries, Irish-born producer Andrew Eaton has teamed up with London Irish actors Ian Hart and Steve Coogan to make a film version of a famous 18th-century novel.

Described as a “clever, comic, post-modern take on the construction of a film,” Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story was released in early November and is based on what has been described as the world’s first post-modern novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Tipperary-born writer Laurence Sterne, which by the way, was one of President Thomas Jefferson’s favorite books.

Eaton, Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom previously teamed up on the film 24 Hour Party People.

The Irish mafia in the U.S. continues to attract attention from filmmakers both in the movies and TV.

Martin Scorsese’s next flick The Departed, which will star Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg is his contemporary take on this theme. Scorsese held an open casting call for Irish immigrants in the Bronx and Queens, for this film about conflicts between Irish mobsters, and which may remind some of James “Whitey” Bulger’s notorious story. Look for The Departed in theaters next year.

An Irish casting call was also put out for another Boston Irish mob film called Townies, starring and directed by Mike Kenney.

In one interview Kenney cited fellow Irish-American James Cagney as an inspiration.

“James Cagney was 32 years old when The Public Enemy was released in 1931, I’m 32; this is my first gangster film, The Public Enemy was his first; I’m Irish, he was Irish. Can you see the connection?” Kenney asks. “People only refer to The Godfather and Goodfellas when they recall gangster movies, when in fact it was James Cagney films that created the gangster genre. Cagney is the king of gangster movies, just as Elvis was the king of music, without question.”

Townies, expected to hit theaters for St. Patrick’s Day 2006, is about an Irishman, fresh from prison, who wants to get out of the neighborhood.

But, Kenney adds, “the code of silence and loyalty to his friends force him to stay.”

Kenney adds that he “grew very tired of all the Italian mafia movies that parade fancy silk suits, diamond pinky rings and lavish homes. Moviegoers may fantasize about living like that, but they can’t relate to it,” says Kenney. “Irish gangsters mostly dress like working-class people, drive aver age cars, and enjoy a good barstool conver sation, just like me and you,”

Joe McBratney has a very personal interest in a TV documentary he is putting together about Irish organized crime. McBratney’s dad was an Irish gangster himself who was eventually killed by a young Italian up-and-comer named John Gotti.

McBratney the son is hoping to play McBratney the father on the big screen in the movie Matt Dillon owns production rights to.

Finally, on the DVD front, look for the gripping film Omagh, starring Gerard McSorley, in stores now. Sundance Channel Home Entertainment has released the film, which takes a close look at the infamous 1998 bombing which nearly derailed the Irish peace process and left dozens dead. ♦

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