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Peat and Repeat

[whitespace] I Went Down

Johnathan Hession

Point and Shoot: Git (Peter McDonald) and Bunny (Brendan Gleeson) take a little target practice in Paddy Breathnach's 'I Went Down.'

Indie Irish hit 'I Went Down' is a too-familiar shaggy-dog story

By Richard von Busack

JUST OUT OF JAIL less than a day, Git Hynes (Peter McDonald) gets indebted to a fierce gangster named Tom French (Tony Doyle). The plot of the Irish import I Went Down has it that in order to clear the books with French, Git must set off on an errand with French's half-competent assistant Bunny Kelly (Brendan Gleeson). Kelly has a reputation as a rageball. It's said he once stuffed his own grandfather in a trash can--and everyone was so afraid of Kelly's temper that no one was brave enough to dig the old man out.

Kelly and Hynes track Frank Grogan (Peter Caffrey), one of French's debtors, to a hide-out in the suburbs outside of Cork and retrieve him at gunpoint. Grogan--a loquacious, self-important type with a weird birthmark that looks like a drop of roofing tar settled on his cheek--starts talking on the road back to Dublin.

Grogan explains that French has more on his mind than an old debt; what he wants is revenge, since Grogan's been sleeping with French's wife. As a novice, Git isn't hardened enough to deliver a man to his possible death. Kelly--your proverbial gangster with a heart of gold--tries to teach the kid nicely that deference is the way of the world; in the end, however, Git's integrity saves the pair of them.

Unlikeliness disguises itself as unpredictability in I Went Down. Director Paddy Breathnach tries to break the frame with blackouts and chapter titles. The film even begins with the opening words from Plato's Republic: "I went down to Peiraeus yesterday, with Glaucon, the son of Ariston ..." The oblique joke refers to the education Bunny gives Git on the manner in which a philosopher/gangster conducts himself. But Conor McPherson's script doesn't educate an audience that has seen other gangster movies. How independent is a film that seems to have been inspired by the Joe Pesci scenes in Lethal Weapon 2?

What I Went Down has going for it--at least at first--is McDonald's Git, whose worried, suffering eyes and near-mouthlessness remind you pleasantly of Grommit the dog. Also, Breathnach has really found the backside of Ireland for his locations: motor-way restaurants, peat bogs, cinder-block bars that overcome received notions of Irish pubs being all wood-paneled and full of cherry-nosed, tweed-clad poets toasting Maud Gonne. If only the authenticity of the surroundings had bled into the film.

I Went Down is reputed to be the highest-grossing independent Irish film ever, thus outperforming The Butcher Boy, The Miracle, My Left Foot--the range and depth of Irish cinema is flickering in my memory, just as a drowning man's life is supposed to flash before his eyes. So this is it, then? This is where it ends? Hearing of I Went Down's success at the Sundance Film Festival, hearing of its honors, I expected a little more on screen than Things to Do in Dublin When You're Dead.

I Went Down (R; 107 min.), directed by Paddy Breathnach, written by Conor McPherson, photographed by Cian de Buitléar and starring Peter McDonald, Brendan Gleeson and Peter Caffrey.

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From the July 2-8, 1998 issue of Metro.

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