Small Engine Repair

Small Engine Repair


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

You wouldn’t guess from the title that this is about country music in Northern Ireland. Actually, it’s about failure and country music in Northern Ireland, with a selection of Scottish and English actors in the leads.

Talent is inevitably depressing as a subject for discussion, because, as everyone knows, talentless people can turn themselves into celebrities, while gifted artists and writers remain undiscovered for lack of ambition, inadequate networking skills or loss of confidence.

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Doug (Iain Glen) is one of these. He’s past the 40 mark, temporarily unemployed, with a younger wife (Kathy Kiera Clarke) who is cheating on him. In the old days, or rather the young days, he wrote songs and had dreams of putting a band together and going on Jesse Gold’s country music radio show. But marriage, the need to bring in a wage and creative exhaustion put paid to all that. Now, whenever opportunities arise, he drives a forklift, or one of those alien machines that strips branches off felled timber and loads them onto the backs of lorries.

Doug’s best friend is Bill (Steven Mackintosh), who runs a ramshackle, edge-of-the-woods garage, specializing in – you’ve guessed it! – small engine repairs, such as outboard motors and lawn mowers. His 22-year-old son Tony (Laurence Kinlan) works for him and hates it. When Bill decides to push the business up a notch and include truck repairs, Tony objects because they don’t have the equipment, nor the parts, nor the expertise.

When Doug walks in on his wife in the bath with a hairy bloke who isn’t her brother, he kicks the furniture, packs his bags and moves in with Bill. Suddenly, the film is turning into a losers convention, with Doug blubbing into his beard, Bill balancing on the brink of a nervous breakdown and Tony too depressed to try anything as radical as girls, or heroin.

At this point the music kicks in. It’s been there all the time on the soundtrack, but now is used as therapy and maybe/maybe the spur for Doug to kick start a moribund career on the pub circuit. He writes about what he feels and what he feels is the pain of loss and betrayal, ideal country-and-western subject matters.

Will he make a comeback, or is it Bill’s office couch and living out of a suitcase for the foreseeable? Will Bill and Tony patch up their differences and not kill each other? Is Bill’s admiration for Doug an emotional dependence, or genuine friendship? Will their ex-mate (Stuart Graham), just out of prison for killing a child in a hit-and-run, wreak revenge on the squealer who named him to the cops?

There are issues here and there are positive messages if you care to look, but the darkness before dawn lingers like a late mist and subplots tend to remain unresolved as sentimentality washes in from Hope Point. The performances, however, are terrific. Mackintosh has the nervous energy of a ferret in a wardrobe and Glen, accustomed to more heroic roles, carries the weight of disappointment with exactly the right combination of self-pity and introspection.

Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2007
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Small Engine Repair packshot
A forklift driver strives reluctantly to become a country-and-western singer on the pub circuit in Northern Ireland.
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Director: Niall Heery

Writer: Niall Heery

Starring: Iain Glen, Steven Mackintosh, Laurence Kinlan, Stuart Graham, Tom Murphy, Kathy Kiera Clarke, Gary Lydon, Charlene McKenna, David Pearse

Year: 2006

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Ireland


London 2006

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