Intermission. IFC Films presents a film directed by John Crowley. Written by Mark O'Rowe. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence). Starring:Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, Kelly Macdonald, Colm Meaney, Shirley Henderson, David Wilmot, Michael McElhatton, Deirdre O'Kane.


Intermission is a film in the vein of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in that it takes a group of eccentric characters, throws them into a series of strange events, and sees how it all turns out. The clear difference between the two films, however, is that Intermission can't even create the illusion of being about something, which Pulp Fiction pulls off so admirably, creating a film that is decidedly less than the sum of its parts.

It's not hard to pinpoint what is wrong with Intermission. It's director John Crowley's debut picture, and he just isn't ready to pull off something this ambitious. Success would require artful balancing of disparate stories and themes until it eventually all comes together, but Crowley fumbles with the themes until nothing that happens seems like anything other than a screenwriter's conceit, and quite a few plot threads are ended unsastisfactorily.

It's a shame, too, because the story shows promise. An ensemble piece, Intermission involves John (Cillian Murphy) and Oscar (David Wilmot), two petty thieves working in a department store. They both are having trouble in love; John just broke up with his girlfriend, Deidre (Kelly Macdonald), and Oscar doesn't have any love life to speak of at all. So Oscar goes to a mature women singles club to hook up and meets Noeleen (Deirdre O'Kane), the abandoned wife of Sam (Michael McElhatton), who is now living with Diedre. Meanwhile John gets involved in a complex bank-robbing scheme with Lehiff (Colin Farrell), a violent hooligan.

If that all sounds confusing, consider that I haven't even mentioned Jerry (Colm Meaney), a sadistic cop, or Sally (Shirley Henderson), Deidre's mustachioed sister. There are literally a dozen major characters and plotlines, not all of which Intermission spends the necessary amount of time on. I get the distinct feeling that quite a bit of film was cut out, causing the narrative to occasionally feel disjointed and jumpy.

Still, Intermission's dialogue impresses. It is filled with dark humor and snappy lines; none of it really sounds like something anyone would say, but we find ourselves believing it anyway. An equal share of credit for this must go to the screenwriter and the actors, nearly all of whom do strong work. Cillian Murphy, from last year's 28 Days Later, balances anger and sadness convincingly, as do David Wilmot and Kelly Macdonald. The real stand-out, however, is Colin Farrell, speaking in close to his real accent, who creates a creepily charming individual out of a decidedly amoral character. It's finally a performance that manages to stretch his considerable talent, and it's a shame that his work won't be seen by many. (However, leave once the credits start, lest you be subjected to his awful rendition of "I Fought the Law.")

There's just too much going on in Intermission to fit into 106 minutes, and Crowley never finds the right balance between the narrative threads to make it compelling. It's the kind of movie you can watch and respect for what it does right but still not like it. In this case, unfortunatetly, good writing and acting can't make up for the subpar direction.

© 2004 Matt Noller