Perrier's Bounty

Perrier's Bounty

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Sometimes you find yourself resenting even your favourite filmmakers when you find yourself watching yet another pale imitation of what was once fresh and original.

When Quentin Tarantino exploded onto the scene in the early Nineties, his vision was a breath of fresh air – a mixture of B-movie crime thrills, hip yet literate dialogue and a blackly comic approach to life and death. It had its roots in the past – Scorsese’s Seventies masterpieces, Hong Kong action flicks – but still managed to seem new and exciting.

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All that seems a long time ago now, not just because of his erratic and intermittent recent output, but also as a result of all the wanabes since then who’ve assumed that a lot of swearing and shooting equals a cult classic.

There have been some fantastic variations on the theme – Guy Ritchie’s early efforts, for all their faults, were masterclasses in cinematic storytelling, and In Bruges managed to be a taut thriller, a laugh-out-loud comedy and an affecting character study at the same time – but Perrier’s Bounty isn’t one of them.

It shares a lot of DNA with Martin McDonagh’s Belgian-set cracker but is a lesson in how similar ingredients don’t always make for a successful recipe. The film opens with a ponderous, would-be profound monologue by an offscreen narrator, then cuts to the Dublin flat of Michael (Cillian Murphy), who owes a thousand euros to notorious gang boss Perrier (Brendan Gleeson). He’s confronted by two henchmen, who warn him that he has a matter of hours to pay up, or bones will start to be broken “and digits don’t count” (this turns out to be the best line in the film, which gives you some indication).

The fact that we don’t know what Michael does or why he owes the money is indicative of the film’s haphazard approach. Maybe it’s intended to set up a sense of mystery and enigma around him, but it’s simply frustrating and tends to alienate the viewer from his character even more.

Put another way, he’s not very likeable – a violent, amoral, self-pitying waster who may well have brought all his troubles on himself. And they quickly escalate – he also has to deal with his suicidal neighbour Brenda (Jodie Whitaker), whom he has a crush on but is devoted to a serial philanderer, and his errant father who reappears in his life to tell him that he’s been visited by The Grim Reaper and will die the next time he falls asleep.

These distractions render finding Perrier’s money even more problematic. And when the henchmen come to collect one of them accidentally winds up dead. The trio go on the run, desperate to try and find some way to appease Perrier. Meanwhile, he puts a bounty on Michael’s head and the fugitives find there’s no honour among thieves when there’s that much money at stake...

The set-up has the potential to be a real white-knuckle thriller, with a side-order of character dramas played out by the principals in extremis and some barbed asides on the contrast between Ireland’s Celtic Tiger image and the older, more brutal reality of the Dublin underworld. But the plot meanders and doesn’t stand up well to scrutiny; the setting could frankly be anywhere; the set-pieces lack the necessary kinetic energy; and O’Rowe seems to think that having everyone SHOUT and !”£$%^ing swear a lot all the time equals hard-edged street poetry.

It’s all the more disappointing because O’Rowe’s screenwriting debut, Intermission, was a skillful and affecting multi-stranded drama and Fitzgibbon is an Irish TV veteran who also made the quirky and well-received A Film With Me In It. The cast are top-notch and do their best with limited material, but have all been better elsewhere – though Jim Broadbent plays nicely against type as a garrulous low-life, necking coffee straight from the jar to keep the inevitable moment at bay and offering Michael nothing in the way of useful or fatherly advice.

The problem is that none of the main characters is likeable or interesting enough to care that much about what happens to them. When the inevitable Mexican stand-off finale arrives you simply want it to end as soon as possible. There’s just enough here to pass muster for an undemanding night in, and to suggest that the director and writer alike have better work in them. But this is one of those films that largely serves to remind you how often this kind of thing’s been done before – and how much better.

Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2010
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Perrier's Bounty packshot
A Dublin wastrel finds his troubles piling up when he attempts to pay off a debt to a gangster.
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If you like this, try:

In Bruges
Mean Streets
Pulp Fiction