There are many films around "in the tradition of Pulp Fiction", as the hype-merchants like to say – a shallow but undeniably seductive tradition.
The smartest variations on the Quentin Tarantino formula are those movies which temper the familiar ingredients – hard-boiled dialogue, outrageous bursts of violence, tricky narrative structure – with a distinctively regional flavour.
Kiss or Kill (1997) achieved this mix, and so does Paddy Breathnach's I Went Down. This whimsical Irish gangster yarn has very little seedy glamour in it. It is a laconic, downbeat tale that emphasises character interest over narrative drive.
It is more successful than most post-Tarantino efforts in its incorporation of a tough pathos and a colourful humour based on its anti-heroes chewing over serious, philosophical issues as they go about their shady business.
Git (Peter McDonald), young and just out of jail, is teamed up with Bunny (Brendan Gleeson), a weathered, older crim who harbours a sadistic streak. They are sent by their mob boss Tom (Tony Doyle) to fetch Frank (Peter Caffrey) and escort him to a mysterious assignation.
Once in their company, the loquacious Frank reveals that, due to his various transgressions against Tom, he likely to be killed when they reach their destination.
This loose narrative structure allows some intrigue, a few action-based set-pieces, and a complex ending based on the resolution of conflicts buried deep in the past.
Otherwise, writer-director Breathnach uses the plot as a mere springboard for digressions, incidents, jokes and some finely scripted and acted conversations. The rapport between Git and Bunny is especially well created.
Breathnach tries a little too hard at times to be clever. Quirky quotes from philosophical texts, laboured puns (as with the title) and a barrage of working class pop culture references dress up what is essentially an ordinary, television-style genre exercise.
But there are enough novel touches – and just a smidgen of heart – to make I Went Down well worth catching.
© Adrian Martin December 1997