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Friday, August 7, 1998

Heady Irish comedy

Movie: I Went Down

Posted on Fri, Aug 7, 1998 at 4:00 AM

****
Our Rating: 4.00

"I Went Down" opens with a quote from Plato's "Republic" and ends with a sexual reference more commonly associated with the film's title. What takes place in between is a heady, raucous mixture of these two extremes: A film that's literate, lyrical and insightful, yet still fueled by very basic instincts and a playful sense of fun.

At first seeming like an Irish variation of the type of crime film that flourished in the wake of the Quentin Tarantino tsunami -- lots of tough and funny guy talk punctuated by flashes of ultraviolence -- "I Went Down" is anything but a mindless clone.

Directed by Paddy Breathnach from a wonderful first screenplay by Dublin playwright Conor McPherson, "I Went Down" follows the reluctant alliance of two small-time thugs: Git Hynes (Peter McDonald) and Bunny Kelly (Brendan Gleeson). Git is fresh out of prison when he intercedes on behalf of his irresponsible best friend who's being threatened by loan sharks -- an act all the more charitable considering this "friend" hooked up with Git's girlfriend while he was incarcerated.

This puts the usually quiet, affable Git in hot water with the local underworld boss, Tom French (Tony Doyle). Git's penance is a supposedly routine assignment: to travel cross-country and pick up some money from French's associate, Frank Grogan (Peter Caffrey). As a driver and back-up muscle, French sends along the scary (and comic) Bunny Kelly, whose arrowhead sideburns and flashy clothes make him look like a lost teddy boy.

Nothing, of course, is as simple as it initially seems, from Bunny's capabilities to the deep, bitter connection between the stoic French and gregarious Grogan. The filmmakers, who obviously have been influenced by American gangster movies, give their story a fresh perspective by setting the action primarily in rural Ireland, where a bog takes the place of the usual dark alley.

Unmannered, straightforward performances from a terrific cast make McPherson's relentlessly clever, Irish slang-peppered script spring buoyantly to life.

"No goods, no black pudding," says Bunny Kelly espousing his basic philosophy -- "I think you know what I'm talking about." Somehow, you do.

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