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Fresh out of prison, Git rescues a former best friend (now living with Git's girlfriend) from a beating at the hands of loan sharks. He's now in trouble with the mob boss, Tom French, who sends Git to Cork with another debtor, Bunny Kelly, to find a guy named Frank Grogan, and take him to a man with a friendly face at a shack across a bog. It's a tougher assignment than it seems: Git's a novice, Bunny's prone to rash acts, Frank doesn't want to be found (and once he's found, he has no money), and maybe Tom's planning to murder Frank, which puts Git in a moral dilemma. Then, there's the long-ago disappearance of Sonny Mulligan. What's a decent and stand-up lad to do? Written by
Genre hybridity and a delicate mix of both light and dark gangster material goes down nicely in this rare find.
What a find 1997 Irish film I Went Down turned out to be; a film that greatly reminded me of Stephen Frears' 1984 film entitled The Hit and one that packs in just about everything from crime to comedy; from the gangster genre to the road movie arc and from the buddy sub-genre to the sorting out of romances with loved ones. I Went Down doesn't ever exploit nor does it trivialise its subject matter and nor does it ever loose focus by lurching down one route by way of centring too much on one of the many ingredients it takes on. The film is a balanced buddy comedy, veering off into scenes of great disturbance and wrong-doing in a timely and tasteful manner but retaining a certain 'feel' to it; a certain heart.
Some of the central themes to I Went Down revolve around relationships between human beings. The placement of I Went Down in the 'road movie' narrative arc enables the two central protagonists and a third character, who's being transported, to bond for long periods in a lone location as they physically travel together. The leads are Git Hynes (McDonald), a young man just out of prison, and Bunny Kelly (Gleeson), a rough and ready if somewhat clumsy criminal that has his own way in which to see that the job's done. They are charged by a certain criminal boss named Tom French (Doyle) to travel to Cork and recover Frank Grogan (Caffrey) before taking him to a remote, rural location (always a dangerous place in these noir-infused tales) for supposed judgement.
The film recalls 1984's The Hit as a film about two men, of rather unbalanced 'types' transport a third, seemingly more helpless man, to his supposed death. Whereas John Hurt's silent and experienced gangster was in direct comparison to Tim Roth's younger and more scociopathic up-coming criminal; Gleeson and McDonald's two leads are explored more physically; as one exhibits short, wiry and somewhat soft-bodied characteristics as opposed to a much larger, clumsy and more 'involving' individual that likes the attention and action. In both The Hit and I Went Down, the supposedly hapless victim wears a face of acceptance; he sits in the rear of the car and seems cool with his dangerous predicament; and while Terrance Stamp will forever be better known, Peter Caffrey's performance as the upbeat and talkative soon-to-be-in-mortal-danger individual goes down rather well.
Some of the things I noticed early on included an amusing dig at BSkyB, probably on behalf of the BBC who co-funded this, when it appears some gangsters have it in mind that taking a man out back, sitting him down in front of the TV and tuning into a Sky Sports channel is a dreadful punishment. I also got the sense that Git, the lead, wasn't imposing enough or rugged enough to carry the sort of character he was playing, although this was sort of the point in the sense his partner, Bunny, took on the necessary conventions. By the end, we've met some pretty rough and ready characters; those that are involved in murder and criminal activity whereas Git, as this alienated young man more-so a gangster, just seems to share this space with these people in an out-of-his-depth predicament. The tactic here being able to get across a sense of vulnerability in one of the leads, someone who is involved with people but doesn't share the criminally efficient mindset, best demonstrated with Git's surprise when it transpires Bunny has unexpectedly robbed a petrol station.
So if Git is the glue around which the story unravels, then it is Bunny who undergoes the most interesting of transformations. Both men reveal some pretty deep feelings as well as tales as they sit at a dark, glum-looking and smoky hotel bar is there any better cinematic space for two men to talk of women and loves-past? and we realise why Bunny berated Frank earlier on in the car when he began conversations of a sexual nature. Bunny's issues and patchy relationship with his wife are best explored during a phone call to her; the half painted/half to be painted stair banister located just behind the figure on the phone stands as an excellent symbolist representation of a relationship that should be leading up (like a banister as it leads you up the stairs), but just feels rocky and half baked. The symbolism here works better than it should, because we've built up a connection of some sort with these people who are, essentially, criminals but bumbling and down-to-earth people caught up in something far meaner.
One of the film's other ideas that it sort of touches on here and there is the connection the men make as they undergo their journey. In a fleeting moment that Frank manages to evade his captors, he escapes to another hotel and bathes; but Bunny is equally quick witted and arrives in his room only to physically get into the bath with Frank while fully clothed in what is a scene that takes both Frank and the rest of the audience by total surprise. The earlier gag about Bunny being caught in the past for indecent exposure, which had previously been in the back of our minds, jumps right to the front again as Bunny forces his way into the same 'space' as his goal. I Went Down is a darkly comic, somewhat disturbing at times, but very engrossing film that comes complete with a broad atmosphere and a respectable attitude to some rather intimate ideas. It's a winner.
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