Few film categorisations come as contentious as ‘gangster comedy’, a genre most famously espoused by a certain former Mr Madonna. It’s hard to think of a more more love-him-or-hate-him director. But Perrier’s Bounty is not a Guy Ritchie film, it’s not British and it’s not a Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels clone. There’s evidently a smattering of Ritchie influence, but for the greater part this is a uniquely Irish black comedy. It’s not perfect, but it has enough decent gags to maintain a level of interest.
Perrier’s Bounty is directed by Ian Fitzgibbon, who has previously directed only one film (the similarly darkly comic A Film With Me In It), but is a veteran of the Irish film and TV industry, primarily as an actor – he once guest starred in an episode of classic Irish sitcom Father Ted. He and writer Mark O’Rowe demonstrably know the Irish disposition well and sprinkle some wonderfully deadpan humour over the more serious and less successful narrative.
Cillian Murphy, in a typically impressive lead performance, plays Michael, a young Dublin rogue who for unexplained reasons owes €1000 to the titular gangster boss Darrien Perrier, played by the outstanding Brendan Gleeson. When a member of Perrier’s gang is accidentally killed, he puts a bounty on Michael’s life. Accompanied by his estranged father Jim (Jim Broadbent) and neighbour and inevitable love-interest Brenda (Jodie Whitaker), Michael consequently spends a night and a day maneuvering round the seedier parts of Dublin, via a series of increasingly lucky escapes, to avoid the wrath of Perrier.
Perhaps the plot’s weakest element, the constant close calls always seem somewhat contrived. Michael is seconds from death on at least three occasions before being rather implausibly rescued from his fate. The intention, presumably, is to generate some tension and action but by overusing a plot device, on the protagonist no less, it is a little predictable. By the second or third near-death experience you know what’s coming. In spite of the assurance from Gabriel Bryne’s narration that “anything could happen”, everything that you expect to happen more or less does. Fool me once, as they say…
The subplots between Michael and both his father and Brenda are also a little lacking. Jim, played with a decent Dublin accent and a genuine humanity by Broadbent, claims he has been visited by the Reaper and will die next time he falls asleep. He subsequently seeks to resolve his differences with his son, a distant-father-who-makes-good tale we’ve seen a thousand times before. Broadbent and Murphy show great chemistry but have little to work from.
The crushing inevitability of the romantic subplot, meanwhile, is even acknowledged by the narration (“Wouldn’t it be nice if Michael and Brenda got together?”), possibly an attempt at making dialogue like “I think I’m falling in love with you” a little more tenable by framing it ironically, or something. If that was the intention, which seems unlikely, it doesn’t work. Michael and Brenda’s relationship is not entirely unconvincing, but in such an overwhelmingly male-dominated film, it’s hard not to get the impression that Brenda was a character thrown in simply to redress the balance a little.
But Perrier’s Bounty gets along by generally being very funny. Where Guy Ritchie faltered by hamming up the farce, Fitzgibbon plays it far more impassively, and O’Rowe’s script does feature some cracking lines. Liam Cunningham, as villainous loan shark the Mutt, has some of the best; he admires one woman in a bar on the basis she would “go like a bag of carrots”.
It is Brendan Gleeson, however, who elicits the biggest laughs throughout. Whilst some of the other actors attempt more obviously comic turns, Gleeson plays it completely straight. His delivery and facial expressions are pitch perfect. By far the standout moment of the film is our introduction to Perrier, when it is revealed that the deceased member of his gang was the gay lover of another. Gleeson does a superb job playing a tough mobster doing his best to show some 21st-century sensitivity to his homosexual underling, and induced by far the loudest howls in the screening I attended.
The film plays best in its funnier moments, and does a good job of subverting some of its more conspicuous conventions. It’s possible you need to be a little bit in touch with the Gallic sense of humour to fully appreciate it – Gleeson responds to the line “we’re bringing an end to your regime!” with the sublime “…me what?” – and there will always be some put off by the Emerald Isle’s notorious penchant for swearing, but you don’t need Irish blood to grasp the bleakly comic contrast of having a couple’s first kiss at the funeral of a dog.
Perrier’s Bounty is worth a watch. Good, though not great, the sometimes hit-and-miss script is kept buoyant by a strong cast and a well-balanced blend of drama and humour. It’s not earth-shatteringly original or clever, and the fanciful plot twists can be a little grating, but Gleeson’s finely tuned comic timing is probably worth the ticket price alone.