Dizzily paced and structured, the Irish import “Intermission” charms with its “never-let-‘em-see-you-sweat” exuberance. Theater denizens, Mark O’Rowe and John Crowley, the movie’s writer and director respectively, juggle elements of romantic comedy and farcical crime caper with hardly a misstep or stumble. After a somewhat annoyingly “virtuosic” opening that comes staggering at us with a chopped-up, documentary-style jitteriness, “Intermission” finds a sure and brisk footing. Before long, you’re swept away in its pell-mell of interweaving narratives by a couple of crack storytellers who seem audaciously at ease in their newfound medium.

Dewy-eyed and pouty-lipped John (Cillian Murphy) calls it off with his girlfriend, Dierdre (Kelly Macdonald), and almost immediately regrets it. He finds that it’s too late to make amends, however, because Dierdre is already bedding down with Sam, a middle-aged and married bank manager in the thick of a raging mid-life crisis. Eager to mend her tattered self-esteem, Sam’s jilted wife, Noeleen (Dierdre O’Kane) sets her sights on Oscar (David Wilmot), John’s rangy, sex-starved pal. Noeleen’s unleashed libido, not to mention her pent-up rage at her delinquent husband, loosens Oscar’s goose but it also, comically and mid-coitally, beats the poor schlub to a pulp.

John and Noeleen aren’t the only ones stung by rejection. Ever since her last boyfriend shit on her, literally, Dierdre’s sister, Sally (Shirley Henderson), has let herself go and has the moustache to prove it. Sally’s bitterness has her hissing and snarling, but she’s got a tender soul which her widowed mother (Ger Ryan) tries patiently to nurse back to health.

Following the old rule that if you can’t get them back, then get back at them, John throws in with Lehiff, a petty, thuggish punk (played with gusto by Colin Farrell) in a scheme to kidnap Dierdre and hold her ransom to Sam. It so happens that Lehiff is in the cross-hairs of the brutish Jerry Lynch (the indomitable Colm Meaney), Dublin’s answer to Popeye Doyle by way of the self-serious vanity of Inspector Clouseau. Lynch is on a one-man crusade to scour Dublin’s streets of scum and achieve local stardom, while he’s at it, if a reality-TV producer has his way. Meaney mines the great tradition of comic blowhards; he clads Lynch in the armor of male bravado, but one that can’t hide his pathetic inner gloom nor his idiosyncrasies (in this case, an obsession with Celtic mysticism).

Through all its whirl and bluster, “Intermission” comes through a remarkably winning and tender character study—a patchwork of contemporary Dublin’s lovers, hoods and regular Joe’s. O’Rowe and Crowley impressively dovetail their various stories through well-timed turns, parallels and intersections. Add to its ambitious script and direction an ensemble of on-target performances, and you have a rare seasonal treat: a rowdy comedy unafraid of honesty and with a direct appeal to the heart.

Grade: A-

Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Mark O’Rowe
Cast: Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Kelly Macdonald, Brian F. O’Bryne, Colm Meaney


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