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HAVE YOU HEARD OF… THE BUTCHER BOY (1997)

Have You Heard Of?… returns and this week Ronnie Oz takes a look at The Butcher Boy (1997) starring Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw and Eamonn Owens.

Francie (Eamonn Owens), a troubled child central to The Butcher Boy (1997).

Francie (Eamonn Owens), a troubled child central to The Butcher Boy (1997).

** The following review was originally posted by Ronnie Oz on his own page, Movie Gems: facebook.com/moviegemsbyronnie **

Largely unknown to general movie going audiences, The Butcher Boy is a total one off. There is nothing really quite like it and that is what makes me appreciate and applaud it so much. Billed as a black comedy, to me it is more a dark surreal drama with comedic elements thrown in.
Directed by Neil Jordan – who also directed The Crying Game (1992) and Interview With The Vampire (1994) – the film in its essence chronicles the descent of a complex and enigmatic young boy into the depths of madness. The colour filters used for the piece produce hues with such richness that the film has a “postcard” look and even a slight comic book feel. Intentional or not, the look and feel of the film are totally in line with the characters, the action and how the narrative unfolds on screen.

Abusive alcoholic Da Brady (Stephen Rea) and his son Francie (Eamonn Owen), in The Butcher Boy (1997).

Abusive alcoholic Da Brady (Stephen Rea) and his son Francie (Eamonn Owen), in The Butcher Boy (1997).

Francie Brady (Eamonn Owens) and his best friend, Joe (Alan Boyle), live the usual playful, fantasy-filled childhoods of normal boys. However, with an abusive, alcoholic father (Stephen Rea) and a mentally ill, suicidal mother (Aisling O’Sullivan) the pressure on Francie to grow up is immense. After his mother eventually commits suicide and Joe goes off to boarding school, Francie sinks ever deeper into paranoia. His irrational actions are mainly directed against Mrs. Nugent (Fiona Shaw), a nasty neighbour who Francie loathes. He blames her in particular for his eventual estrangement from his best friend, Joe. To complicate matters Francie begins to see visions of the Virgin Mary (Sinead O’Connor). After his father dies Francie’s condition worsens and his behaviour becomes more bizarre and erratic, culminating in an extremely violent act that sees him committed to a mental institution for treatment.
Set in a town in Ireland in the early 1960’s and told with a voice-over from the adult Francie, the film is just plain weird as it breaks a lot of cinematic rules. Its style and intention are difficult to pin down, but that is what makes it so wonderfully unique! The piece works because the script is excellent, the performances are sound and the cinematography (particularly of the Irish landscapes) is absolutely stunning.

Theatrical poster for The Butcher Boy (1997).

Theatrical poster for The Butcher Boy (1997).

And then … there is young Eamonn Owens in his debut role as Francie. This kid’s performance is beyond brilliant, nothing short of spectacular: a complete knockout! The role is a difficult one because, mental issues aside, Francie is not a likeable character at all. Though he is amusing at times and charming when it suits him, he is actually a thief, a bully, vindictive, manipulating and capable of extreme violence. Owen’s performance is so finely tuned that he is totally engaging as we witness his contradictory and unpredictable actions. It is impossible to take your eyes off him. He is the glue that holds the whole film together and it is his presence that transcends a weird film into the wonderful category. Owens owns the movie; he is the movie!
The Butcher Boy is not for everyone and people will probably love it or hate it, but it is worth seeing just for Eamonn Owen’s performance alone!

MoM Rating: 8.5/10

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