New Films: Trojan Eddie

Director: Gillies Mackinnon. Starring: Richard Harris, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson, Sean McGinley, Angeline Ball, Aislin McGuckin, Brid Brennan (15)
Click to follow
Watching the perpetually sorrowful Stephen Rea, a man who looks like he was born in debt, it's hard to believe that he could persuade you of anything, except perhaps that there's always someone worse off than you. So his first scene in Trojan Eddie is something of a revelation - as the title character, he charms a hall full of people into parting with their cash in exchange for the former contents of the back of a lorry. He has a young assistant, Dermot (Stuart Townsend), and the pair of them perform a rusty vaudeville routine to lubricate the punters' purses.

They're working for Dermot's uncle John (Harris), a local bully who we see praying to a sculpture on which the word "Power" is emblazoned. The banality of this shot is not relieved by the camera's revelation that Power is the family name, and the monument is a tombstone. But aside from that brief misdemeanour and a later episode where the specially written song "Love Makes a Fool of You" plays at the wedding of a cuckold- to-be, Mackinnon's excellent film is on first name terms with subtlety.

Like his previous feature, the equally assured but rather less affecting Small Faces, Trojan Eddie has an air of romance undercut by menace, as befits a film about lovers on the run from vicious hoods. The hounded couple are Dermot and Kathleen (McGuckin), who, foolishly wait until Kathleen has wed John Power before making their escape with the dowry money. But this isn't True Romance. The runaways don't actually run very far, and Mackinnon is less keen to build toward their retribution than to catalogue the sadness of those left behind - Eddie, compromised by his knowledge of Dermot's whereabouts, or Power, saddled with the indignity of spending his wedding night searching for his bride.

Mackinnon uses unexpected colours to convey a certain tarnished glamour in the drab Irish locations, lingering over orange-tinted puddles standing in purple soil, or ensuring that there's always an unexplained shaft of gold light spilling into the frame from somewhere. Yet he can't bring himself to be quite so enthusiastic about any of the three marriages which are depicted. It's comic and touching to watch Kathleen walking in her wedding dress, ignoring the squelch of mud underfoot. But once she has gone, Power clasps that dress in his hands like it's a skin that she has shed, and Mackinnon finds a visual echo of it in a tatty net curtain flapping in a derelict caravan.

The film's use of repetition in imagery and camerawork creates a strong sense of constriction which is claustrophobic without ever being depressing. Mackinnon's generous regard for his characters' emotions is crucial, but John Keane's splendid score also plays a significant part in suggesting a world beyond the frame, its woozy sax signature hinting at the picture's hopeful flourishes. It's also impeccably edited, with scenes planted to suggest odd, tangential moods rather than to drive the story forwards, while important plot-points can be disguised as inconsequential details.

Mackinnon's likes to ambush his audience, and that doesn't just mean lulling us into a false sense of security. If violence apears out of nowhere, it also vanishes back into thin air just as fast. The film's prosaic brutality is constantly being supplanted by flashes of macabre lyricism which can require a little blind faith - when a man whose neck has been torn with a meat-hook is pressed against a mirror by his assailant, don't be tempted to question whether a thug who makes such a careless mess is really in the right line of work. Instead, notice how Mackinnon uses the blood-smeared reflection to capture the sight of life setting on one face, and remorse dawning on another - a single economical shot worthy, like the rest of this remarkable film, of comparison with Powell and Pressburger.

See Stephen Rea interview, p9