Directed by Chris Baugh. Written by Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin.
Nigel O’Neill as Donal, Susan Lynch as Frankie Pierce, Józef Pawlowski as Bartosz, Stuart Graham as Trevor Ballantine, David Pearse as Gavigan, Anna Próchniak as Kaja, Stella McCusker as Florence, Ian McElhinney as Eamon, Brian Milligan as Jerome, Shashi Rami as Vivian Lalor Roddy as Leo McMahon, Ryan McParland as Ossie, Andrew Porter as Damien.
Production Katy Jackson and Brendan Mullin, Music by James Everett, Cinematography by Ryan Kernaghan, Film Editing by Brian Philip Davis. Six Mile Hill Productions. Cert. 18. Duration 1hr 39mins.
The Chris Baugh debut feature Bad day for the Cut is a modern Irish revenge thriller with a broad scoping and complex plot driven along by the dark secrets of families history in this troubled province. At times it becomes a trail of bodies and has the initially setting of a farmer living the quiet life with his mother in an Co. Antrim farm. Scenes of domestic harmony with the caring son Donal (Donal O’Neill) eager to ensure his frail mother is not neglected and this is seen initially as a family need. Donal is fond of shooting rabbits for a stew and his country and western music, which is not a rarity here while he fixes old cars or does work on anything that takes his fancy away from the tedium of routine farm work. Into his existence comes another star of the film a neglected Transit which he turns into his boys shed.
Donal’s world then becomes turned upside down when he catches the wrong end of an act of violence one night at his own home. One absentee from the film are the Police except for the presence of two Detectives (back view only) as a result of this disruptive and gruesome act of violence at the farm. Quite probably due to it being entirely filmed here the risks might have been it’s not being utilised. From then on in the violent frenzy that happens they are not to be seen. Perhaps this is a stoic political call by the Director/Writers on the Scandinavian noir of clever troubled detectives not being a Northern Ireland familiarity. Crime fiction is a local speciality and like this film it is seldom a reflection of more destructive truth.
Donal is completely at a loss to explain why this atrocity has happened until he himself becomes a target of violence. Then the wheel turns and it is his turn to act. From small beginnings Donal is now the avenger and the genre becomes a wide expanse of multi-cultural links forming a jigsaw puzzle no one has completed image of and it is this we are drawn into. For empathy and good versus evil there is no actual clear station of rectitude. Once Donal is in his revenge mode he looses any rationality or credibility. One feature of the film poster is its likeness to the Spaghetti Western standards, Django, Fistful of Dollars or the one with a Belfast connection – A Town called Bastard starring Robert Shaw of these parts. This genre approach is a virtual context and allusion which is narrowly made.
While it is true the chronic violent riddled town/city certainly Belfast and Northern Ireland has been, with its tragic magnitude of violence and still has hurt as an undercurrent to the everyday, the post traumatic shock has embedded in many citizens whether directly affected or not. Other cities are subjected to variations of the lack of moral discipline and the film tries to reflect here in Belfast the story of families affected by their tragic misfortune and wrong choices. I happened to be re-reading a chapter or two of the 2000 book, Northern Protestants – An Unsettled People by Susan McKay which documents district by district across the province the interrelation of acts of destruction and their impact and legacy left of very similar disregard for life. The untenable becomes tenable and the ‘new normal’ media speak, goes further as past lives causal projection is cyclical which is one of the most forceful effects of this film. Unforgiving and God forsaken is the message to be taken in deploring all acts of violence and the meaningless outcomes they accumulate.
New times have arrived and racketeering and gangster riddled combatants work the undercurrent of a superficial peace. Memories and family stories are woven in a weave no one has a complete picture of. An unlikely mobster is a family woman. Susan Lynch plays her femme fatale best inhabiting the part brilliantly, her face expressing rage, inner strengths, bitterness and she conveys potent sexual latency as a jewel among thorns. As a highly driven woman her role is large in the film as she is intent on achieving her objectives regardless of the cost but with a motherly hand towards her own daughter in contrast to her own past. So two vengeful people are the at the Centre of the story and the opposites create a battle of wills. Let the contest begin.
Without a male partner she runs a prostitution racket with her stock and trade in bodies a ruthless and violent heavy business to remain in control. There is no indication for the largesse of wealth she has become used to as she brings up a single child, 5 year old daughter whose exposure to the everyday business is mostly obscured though Mother does let her mouth loose with words and temper tantrums no child should be witness to. The script realises it but it is accomplished in one or two scenes.
The male character and co-driver is the large stocky farmer called Donal O’Neill, played grittily and with determined off the scale rage, a man in his fifties whose part in the machinations or outcomes of the ‘troubles’ is miraculously innocent and of little affect. His mother Florence is portrayed by Stella McCusker, whose part requires a completely convincing woman carrying as many women in the country do, a burden of grief and remorseful tears locked up and unseen while secrets are held. Stella McCusker carries it off superbly in a sensitive subtle nuanced way, with her reservoir of theatre and film expertise, the convincing portrayal of a woman with memories, secrets, worried but still in charge of her own world courting for us nevertheless a source of intrigue. Acting as a shield to others, her offspring, her peace is disrupted as the past unravels.
The film opens with a flashback to a revenge taken on a man in palliative care with a breathing mask filling his lungs with oxygen while he is in the last stages of life. Lalor Roddy is the man. With his usual prime attendance to his craft he opens the film in an interesting short introduction which turns out to be flashback.
From there the action returns to the present and a Northern Ireland picturesque and getting along nicely with the entrails of back office culture jobs and telephone call centres in the very heart of Belfast City. Capers and criminality is a parallel world. Life in redressing the postcard image is on message. Any murky past is not for outward consumption. An archive of injustices and the undealt with past is locked up in memories along with state and terrorists files never to see new light. Property is lush and shows signs of prosperity as the braces are attached to pull up the ragged trousered philanthropist cloth of the Linen City in true entrepreneurial Ulster style.
The past traffic of ingenuity which was and still holds up, is scotched by the economic equator we live on. New commerce a roguery is the diet we enter. The other villainy is the stock and trade of impure violence.
The vision in the film is of the fictional underworld in a confined and largely inaccurate form. It is a fiction based on contemporary instinct. No telling of the real story would be sufficient as access to understanding. These strands are separated and contingent on whose version of events you believe.
The truth would be completely scary and would in many cases lead to greater unconstrained levels of revenge violence – excepting the likehood generations are unlikely to form into self-destructive groups – except the no-hopers hanging on to the coat-tails of handed down myth as a means to lever power and accentuate their projected legacy of ill read history.
Whether the film is embraced as a depiction of a society continuing to be incapable of dealing with its past and truth hidden harbouring realities of unspeakable betrayal and insurgence is questionable. Outside the Island the narrative will come across as a unnerving catastrophic revenge movie full of provocative instinctive shades of red mist exploding causing more cyclical damage and as an action piled up body count it puts it on the same shelf as revenge thrillers of equal intensity – it will be interesting to hear how the Chinese subtitled version went down. It is already out of the blocks as it premiered at The Egyptian Theatre at the Sundance Festival last year and Edinburgh Film Festival and was locally was the closing film of the Belfast Film Festival of this year.
Because adult cinema and particularly a local community based narrative with a fictional web making connections to many people’s lives and understanding of the legacy in their lifetimes it is to be toured across Northern Ireland in venues chosen to bring out a wider audience than the ‘Moviehouse’ screens across the province. The tour dates are below. As a film of universal cinematic value it also is intentionally provocative and any tool in the box – lead character Donal is a man whose ingenuity is seen as someone who reaches for what’s handy, ‘that ‘ill do the job!’ – which makes people deal with their own past and the get on the path to resolving differences of blockchain theory’s in their heads. New light and fresh dilemmas are surmountable only if the past is recalled with truth and remorseful probity.
Polish actor Józef Pawlowski as Bartosz, Anna Próchniak as Kaja, carry the new international phenomenon of a transitory youth into Belfast and Ireland. Neither have a desire to remain here and one has stronger reasons than the other. By scoping out the story the writers bring a reality of Immigrants settling in a cove of their own narrowness through concern of not belonging and integration torturous and complex with the backdrop of sectarianism on acting on their will. The tailoring of other characters, chiefly the hoods is deftly cast. Florences younger brother Eamon (Ian McElhinney) is a townie who keeps himself away from trouble and leaves it in the past. Stuart Graham playing Trevor Ballantine who is the no.2 to Frankie likes to be suited and clean shaven. He gives off an air of being on the precipice of incompetence while unaware of were he is and what his motivations are. Why he chose the work is pure guesswork and he is always one step behind the curve. Frankie on the other hand is a woman who is compelled to joining the action as her edifice crumbles. Bartosz and Kaja are in this drama up to their necks and centrally Józef Pawlowski excels working alongside this mad bunch out on the edge of their acting chops and getting into it with as much nuance as his eyes can convey. A learning experience for all no doubt.
Like a narrow gauge railway traveling to fast this train of thrilling revenge souring and escalating beyond redemption for practically all on its journey the lurching and weaving slow down and wrong turns add up as the film careers out of control down into some soon to be discovered abyss. Then there will be silence. There will be liberty. There will be peace. Not on these terms the cast say. We need a result to suit our knowledge and our grief. We do it for the sake of everyone gone before and to follow. By being completely deranged ejjits high on the adrenaline rush of survivors instinct they boil the stew of violence into a deathly conclusion. The deliverance is summoning up lots of sage parables while partly glamorising the affects by not making it dark enough. The skip the bloodied heads, the unrecognizable body parts (I conject for the possible scenes the viewer may or may not see!) it draws back to gain audience retention. It becomes a shade predictable and no character really is seen as someone to empathise with save the foreign ‘visitors’.
Be warned it’s mad and at times bloody and bonkers. It has a feel of a step back to following in the aftermath of spaghetti westerns trying to find a new field. The filed is Belfast/Templepatrick with the North Coast of Ireland thrown in for chutzpah. Slightly demented but truthfully entertaining as a misguide to the violence around us.
20 October 2017
The 8:30 pm screening on Tues 24 Oct at QFT will be introduced by writer/producer Brendan Mullin and writer/director Chris Baugh. After a run at Queen’s Film Theatre (20 – 26 Oct) the tour calls at:
The Picture House (Ballyclare) 28 Oct
Portrush Film Theatre 9 Nov
Subterranean Film Club (Omagh) 10 Nov
Dungannon Film Club 15 Nov
Fermanagh Film Club 15 Nov
Newcastle Community Cinema 18 Nov
Foyle Film Festival (L/Derry) 23 Nov
Tí Scannán (Mullaghbawn) 1 Dec
Some events will also feature Q and A session with Chris and Brendan (tbc) so audiences will get to hear the (literally) gory details of the process of making the film and taking it to the big screen.
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