Label: Twilight Time
Released: September 8, 2015
Genre: Crime / Drama
Synopsis: After witnessing the murder of his manager and an innocent bystander, a saxophonist moonlights as an assassin, tracking down and meting out revenge for the killings.
Special Features: Isolated Music & Effects Track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available Exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.
Neil Jordan’s first feature film as writer-director mostly works – it’s about 80% successful in its careful portrayal of an Irish saxophonist (Stephen Rea) who goes on a revenge spree after his manager and a deaf mute are killed by a local gang that may have connections above street-level – but even with its flaws, it’s an impressive work that showcases a lot of fine talent in small roles, each vital to a grim portrait of working class life under bleak skies, trash-ridden landscapes, and killers who have banal daytime lives as fishermen and shoe salesmen.
Rea’s Danny heads a band with singer Deirdre (screen newcomer / multi-talented singer Honor Heffernan), and when not making gigs and engaging in an emotionally numb romance with the striking redhead, Danny’s trolling the streets for killers, initially going on nothing more than a specific shuffling of shoes on dirty pavement.
Jordan has the story unfold like a working class film noir, perhaps taking a bit of sixties Free Cinema, and some British bleakism from Mike Hodges’ unrelenting Get Carter (1971), where revenge trumps love or any attempt at normalcy, but Jordan’s spin isn’t so cold: Danny’s performance style actually grows with each revenge killing, as does the interest of Deirdre, and he becomes hipper and cooler with the band – or at least in his own mind – as he wears sunglasses day & night like some ‘killer’ rock star on the local band circuit.
The crooning scenes look and feel noirish in spite of the neon colours – Deirdre’s hair is often propped up like a forties love interest – but the music numbers are backdrops to more interesting minutia that relates to the killings, and while Danny’s quest enjoys an unusual success rate in tracking down each member of the murderous party, it mostly works because Jordan’s set up Danny’s world as tightly knit – where anyone can bump into a fleeting acquaintance or admirer in the most mundane places.
The tonal switches between dark and occasional light scenes in the first two-thirds also work because they humanize Danny – a moment with the aunt who taught him to dance is especially lovely – and rather than dwell on lengthy skulking montages or long speeches where Danny hunts down and metes out punishment, there’s always small details that humanize even the villains, most of whom are more afraid of dying alone than the method of death.
Scenes of the doomed men have a strange stoicism – once plugged with bullets, they’re emotionally and spiritually vulnerable instead of spewing clichéd movie bravado – and Danny’s bumbling and trigger-happy actions are just as destructive as the killers, but Jordan’s script gets a bit wonky in the final act: an encounter with a widow is more of an indulgence in extra nihilism than firm plotting, and the wrap-up is a bit too neat, although one suspects Jordan’s hyper-focus on characters functioned as coverage for a limited budget that prevented elaborate chases and montages.
Chris Menges’ cinematography is beautiful and bleak, preserving the grim working class environs that take Danny and the band through small towns, seaside venues, and a mental asylum (itself a brilliant little scene that clinches the weird world of an itinerant, struggling band), and the songs are both cheesy, at times and quite touching, especially the slow moody pieces where Heffernan’s crooning of Paddy Meegan’s songs seem to harmonically capture the awkwardness of Danny’s new life as musician / assassin, and Deirdre’s doomed romance.
Ray McAnally (A Perfect Spy, Jack the Ripper, Great Expectations) is wonderful in his handful of scenes as the matter-of-fact lead detective, and would appear in several of Jordan’s subsequent films, while Lisa Ann McLaughlin underplays a fetching, randy bride. Veronica Quilligan’s portrayal of the doomed deaf mute is touching and eerie, and Heffernan is effective as the often moping Deirdre; the singer would appear in just a handful of TV shows and one final film, choosing to focus on her career in rock, jazz, and later folk music.
Executive produced by John Boorman, Angel is a natural lead-in to Jordan’s breakthrough indie hit Mona Lisa (1986), and forms the tip of his street-level crime programme that include The Crying Game (1992) with Rae, The Good Thief (2002), and The Brave One (2007).
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features a sharp transfer that retains the grain and grit of Menges’ cinematography, and a clean mono sound mix. Extras include fine liner notes by Julie Kirgo and a mono music & effects track with Meegan’s songs and Keith Donald’s super-sparse score.
Other films produced by Film Four and released by TT include Alan Clarke’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987), Pat O’Connor’s A Month in the Country (1987), Paul Greengrass’ Resurrected (1989), and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch (1997).
© 2015 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review